When You Say, “I’m a Perfectionist,” I Hear, “I Don’t Think I’m Good Enough.”

My good friend Sean Johnson recently shared a piece of advice his dad used to give him. It goes something like this:

"In life, you’ll always be juggling multiple balls at once. And, at some point, it’s a guarantee that one or more of those balls will drop. Having a successful life is a matter of knowing which balls are made of rubber and which are made of glass. Drop accordingly." 

I can’t stop thinking about this advice lately. 

I’ve spent a lot of my life trying not to drop any balls, but continue to add more of them to my metaphorical plate. In other words, I have “I need to be perfect” syndrome. 

What the hell is that about, right? 

I think people wear “I’m a perfectionist” like it’s a badge of honor. It has somehow become synonymous with, “I’m an A player,” or, “I work really hard.” 

Truthfully, as a recovering perfectionist, I know it doesn’t mean either of those things. 

What it really means is, “I worry about not being good enough,” or, “I have a ton of fear about how people will judge my work, so I find mundane excuses to not ship stuff out and into the world.”

Perfectionism, for the most part, really sucks. 

When we try to force our imperfect selves to lead perfect lives, what happens is we start juggling more balls than we can handle. We juggle stuff that doesn’t mean much to us because we don’t know how to say “no” or simply don’t know what our priorities are. We forget that some balls are made of rubber and some are made of glass. And most tragically, we drop the glass balls because we don’t know any better. 

Rubber Ball Examples: 

  • Most business decisions and outcomes
  • Eating one unhealthy meal 
  • Not having the resources (financial, time, etc.) to do get something we really want the moment we want it
  • Sporadic disagreements with family, friends, lovers, and colleagues
  • Not getting all the way through our to-do lists

Glass Ball Examples:

  • Lacking integrity in business decisions and reactions to outcomes
  • Understanding your spirituality
  • Devoting time to being fully present with people you love
  • Not taking care of your body for prolonged periods of time
  • Spending (a lot) of money you don’t have on things you don’t really need for short-term satiation
  • Not being open to the greatest love of your life because you’re afraid of getting hurt

We’ll drop the glass balls. We’ll close ourselves off from love, stop getting adequate sleep, eat crappy food, not exercise, claim “agnosticism,” take shortcuts in business and relationships that might hurt or short change others because it’s easier, and allow ourselves to become easily distracted by shit that doesn’t really matter in the long run. 

And we do this all to preserve the rubber balls—working ourselves into the ground, caught in a cycle of making and spending more money on irrelevant stuff that we won’t remember when we’re 80-years-old, and spending so much time on “productivity” that we forget to actually accomplish worthwhile things. 

Success isn’t about forcing yourself to juggle more and more balls. It’s not about not dropping any of them, either. 

Success is simply this:

  1. Choosing the balls you want to juggle carefully
  2. Not letting the fear of dropping a ball disable you from doing noteworthy shit
  3. Knowing which balls are glass and which aren’t—what matters, and what honestly doesn’t—so that when you do have to let one go, you know which one(s) can drop and bounce back. 

Now, go juggle your heart out. 

Your Time is Limited. Stop Wasting It.

The idea that “time is limited” is commonplace. We hear it and say it all the time. 

But, something interesting happens in the day-to-day of life. We forget the weight of that sentiment. We start taking things for granted. We start wasting time. And then we complain about how much of a waste of time those things feel like. Because a lot of what we do actually is a waste of time. 

It needs to stop- because it’s true: your time here is limited.

Most of us don’t have enough years of life to accomplish everything we want to do. So if time is so limited, we need to be maximizing it literally every day. 

It’s time to stop doing shit that doesn’t create value for you and/or others. 

Stop with so much social media. Stop with so much reading sensational news. Stop getting lost on BuzzFeed or Pinterest. Stop watching TV. Stop doing things the hard and long way. Stop wasting your nights and weekends doing things that numb you (like drinking, eating, watching movies, etc.) instead of things that rejuvenate and fill you up. 

If you want to live an incredibly full life that you won’t regret, start changing how you’re spending your time. Do more of the things that generate the greatest return with the smallest amount of time and/or effort. Do things that restore you and help you grow. Do things that restore and help others grow. 

Take ownership of the time you have now. Because it’s limited.

And it’s time to stop wasting it. 

The Most Effective Goal-Setting Plan You’ll Ever Find.

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A few days ago, I taked about the #1 reason why people don’t accomplish their goals: lack of genuine connection and commitment to them. 

But once you’ve figured out what you really want to do, you still need a strategy for accomplishing it. Your goals are not going to get you anywhere if you don’t actually do something about them. And not just anything—but the right things.

So here’s a very straightforward, fail-proof plan for achieving your goals. I say it’s fail-proof not because error isn’t possible (no one can predict the future or control all circumstances), but because if you follow this plan, you’ll accomplish more than you would under any other plan you’ve been testing out. 

1.) Focus on only 1-2 BIG goals. Seriously.

Now that you’ve figured out how you’re spending time each week, let’s switch gears for a moment. Figure out what your one major goal is this year. I have two major goals—one personal, one career-driven—but wouldn’t advise choosing more than 1-2. 

This is the hardest part for most people because choosing just one BIG goal to pursue requires extreme focus and connection to purpose.

But, it’s really important that you stick to just 1-2 major goals. Goals to me are different than habit changes, which I talk more about here. Your 1-2 goals should be so big, that it would take an entire year to accomplish. If you were to accomplish only these 1-2 things, you’d feel like you had a very successful year.

Examples: 

  • Lose 40 pounds
  • Successfully launch a startup and drive $100k in revenue
  • Get into a top graduate school
  • Learn how to code and land a job as a front-end developer
  • Save for and take a month-long trip to backpack through Southeast Asia

Based on what you really want to accomplish—where your deepest values, passions, and skills intersect—choose 1-2 goals to focus on for the rest of the year. Do not aim for “reasonable.” Be a bit unreasonable. What do you really want to accomplish this year? That’s what you should make your goal.

2.) Create monthly sub-goals. 

Once you’ve created your 1-2 Big Goals, create 9 monthly sub-goals (April - December 2013) for each one. The idea is that the 9 monthly sub-goals would very clearly lead to you accomplishing your 1-2 Big Goals for the year. You can obviously plan for more than 9 months. I just set 9 months as a goal in case you’re reading this now and want to set goals for 2013 specifically. Feel free to plan into 2014 if your Big Goals are going to take you longer than 9 months to accomplish.

Example:

Big Goal: Learn how to code and land a job as a front-end developer.

Sub-Goals:

  • April - Apply and get into the Starter League Beginner HTML/CSS class
  • May - Take Starter League (SL) class & code my own personal blog for practice
  • June - Continue taking SL class, finish coding the blog, and work on a Demo Day project
  • July - Finish SL class & find a company to let me do front-end coding for free to help them redesign a website
  • August - Apply and get into the Starter League Advanced HTML/CSS class
  • September - Continue taking SL class, finish up coding for the company side project
  • October - Finish SL class and take on one more front-end freelance project for another company
  • November - Finish freelance project #2 and apply to a minimum of 8 front-end developer jobs
  • December - Interview with companies, apply to 5 more jobs if necessary…and land a full-time developer job by 12/31!

When you break your Big Goal down this way, you can see the natural progression of your goal and exactly what would need to be done each month in order for you to get a job as a front-end developer by December 31st. Breaking it down this way makes the end goal seem even more tangible. It will get you super excited about the idea of taking on your plan and tackling that one big, amazing goal of yours.

3.) Create weekly mini-goals. 

If you put my post from earlier this week into action, you’ve figured out the 20% of your work that’s driving 80% of your results. Now, the question is: what systems can you put in place to do less of the 80% of activity that isn’t generating results, and more of the 20% activity that is?  

Example:

80% of work that isn’t driving a ton of results:

  1. Checking email for 4 hours a day
  2. Using social media too often throughout the day
  3. Taking too many meetings during the week

Strategies to eradicate the issues above:

  1. Check email for only 2 hours a day—one hour between 11-12pm, and one hour between 4-5pm. Use Inbox Zero techniques to answer, archive, and delete more emails in half the time.
  2. Block social media websites between the hours of 9am-12pm and 1pm-4pm using one of these distraction blocking apps.
  3. Only take meetings on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 12-3pm. If it doesn’t fit into the other person’s schedule, the meeting gets pushed to the following week. Exceptions can be made, but only if the meeting is of extremely high importance and/or urgency.

Once you create a list of strategies, use those—in addition to your set of monthly sub-goals—as a guide, and create 32 mini goals (this translates into 4 mini goals per month—one for each week). Each mini-goal should take no longer than a week to accomplish. Essentially, the mini goals are a way to further break down your monthly goals into highly manageable weekly chunks. 

Example:

April sub-goal - Apply and get into the Starter League Beginner HTML/CSS class

April weekly mini-goals - 

  • Week 1: Do research on Starter League program
  • Week 2: Submit formal application for Starter League
  • Week 3: Send hand-written notes to the founders to let them know how excited I am about taking the SL class
  • Week 4: Get accepted into SL and set up coffee meetings with 3 alums to get advice on making the most of the class

When you break your monthly sub-goals down like this, you basically create a detailed road map for making shit happen. It seems so obvious, but no one plans like this. That’s why most people fail (in addition to not creating strategies to eradicate triggers that lead to wasting time). 

4.) Do your weekly planning.

Based on the weekly goals you outlined for the current month you’re in, you need to set aside 30 minutes to create a weekly “plan of attack” for accomplishing your mini-goal for the week ahead. I created this template  of what your weekly planning sheet could look like:

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It’s a good idea to add in your Big Goal, monthly sub-goal, and weekly mini-goal at the top of your weekly sheet to remind you of what the whole point is with all this planning business and hard work. At the beginning of every week, you should know exactly what you’re looking to accomplish every day to achieve your weekly mini-goal—so that you can move on to your next mini-goal, in order to move on to your next sub-goal, in order to accomplish your one Big Goal.

Fun to look at it like this, right?

You’ll see that I listed “additional projects and tasks” on the weekly planning template I created above. That’s because none of us have just one responsibility. We’re all juggling multiple things at any given point in time. I’ll explain how to best fit these additional projects and tasks in later this week. The point of this sheet is to help you make the tasks that are directly related to your Big Goal a priority over the other stuff you have to do. This is a huge part of goal accomplishment—you need to be willing to get your goal-related tasks done first, even when you’ve got other important things going on. If you don’t get into the habit of doing this, you’ll fail because there’s simply too much other stuff out there to distract you from your longer-term goal. 

5.) Do your daily planning.

Once you’ve done your weekly planning, you need to set aside time to plan every single day for the upcoming day. I’ve soaked up a ton of productivity advice over the last several years, and this is something I hear from every productivity guru and successful person out there: 

You have to plan on your own success.

If you don’t break it down to what you’ll do every day, then there’s no way you’ll accomplish your weekly, monthly, or annual goals. Basically, if you don’t plan daily, you’re screwed. Either you’re going to own your day, or your day is going to own you. I see an enormous difference in my own productivity when I plan it out thoroughly vs. just wing it. Of course, your daily plan needs to go hand-in-hand with the strategies you implement to actively avoid time-wasting triggers and activities. 

Here’s an example of what your daily planning sheet can look like:

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Obviously, I like colors. You can tailor your weekly and daily sheets to look however you want them to look, but these sheets work really well for me. 

You’ll notice a few new sections on this daily sheet. The first is “Today’s Top Tasks”—these are the top three things you must get done for the day. If you accomplish these three things only, your day will have been a success. At least one task should be related to your weekly mini goal. This is really important: make sure you get this task done before you do anything else on your daily task list. Do your top 3 tasks in order before you do anything else, and get them out of the way. Each task should take no longer than 90 minutes (…And yes, it’s possible to get your taxes done in under 90 minutes, depending on complexity—I’ve timed it). 

You’ll also notice a “Batch Tasks” section. This is a list of all the basic operational stuff you need to do your job, like coffee meetings to build new relationships, checking and answering email, getting organized, sending out email newsletters, etc. Basically, they are the tasks you need to do to keep things going, but aren’t really going to equate directly to “success” at the end of the year. 

For example, I need to publish content daily for Technori.com, but if I just focus on that, we’ll have a lot of content, but not that much growth. For me, a major sub-goal would be focusing on growth hacking strategies. Therefore, while very important, editing and publishing articles is actually not a top task for me—it’s a batch task. 

I’ll talk more about batch tasks this coming week, but I wanted to show them to you on the daily sheet for now, because it’s important to make note of and label them as such. 

As a note, I learned a lot of the above techniques from reading I’ve done over the years. My favorite thought leaders in this space are Steven CoveyLeo Babauta, and Brian Tracy. I would highly recommend reading any of the books these three guys have written, particularly Leo’s Power of Less. That being said, I’ve learned about and tested the psychology behind why we achieve and don’t achieve what we set out to do. So, I tailored the plan above based on what I’ve seen actually work and not work through my various productivity testing. I believe the plan above is the absolute best aggregated, tailored plan for making your goals a reality. 

So there you have it! An easy-as-they-come, fail-proof goal-setting (and achieving) method. Four steps. A lot of happiness and accomplished goals. Boom. Later this week, I’ll talk in depth about batch tasking and weekly reviews to keep you in check, streamline your time management processes, and stick to your goals. 

Hope you’ll pass this along to any one else who might find it useful!

Why You’re Not As Productive As You Want to Be (and What to Do About It)

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I seriously geek out about life hacking. I am all about discovering and implementing ways to save time and optimize life so that I’ve got as much time as possible to pursue what really matters. 

If you’re struggling right now with time management and are looking for a simpler, more effective system, I’ve got one for you.

This week, I’m going to take you through some of the best, most effective life hacking tips I’ve learned over the past year. I’ll cover:

  • Tuesday: The fail-proof goal-setting method
  • Wednesday:  Why to-do lists don’t work (and the better alternative)
  • Thursday: The magic of batch tasking
  • Friday: Creating a schedule that reflects your values
  • Saturday: Identifying un-productivity triggers—and how to eradicate them
But before I dive into any of the topics above, let’s lay some more groundwork. I’m convinced there are two major reasons why people don’t create and follow systems that work:
Problem #1: Most people have no idea how they’re spending their time.
 
It’s the same thing with a diet. A ton of people track their diets. Why? Because you’re a lot more likely to intake fewer calories and eat less crap if you’re tracking exactly what you’re eating.
 
Well, the same is true for tracking how you spend your time…except pretty much nobody does it. And everyone really should—at least quarterly. We all have a sense of how and why we’re being unproductive (i.e.too much time on social media, in email, getting ready in the morning, browsing the web, in meetings, etc.). But, I promise you, unless you’re already super productive (in which case, I don’t know why you’re still reading this), you will be shocked by how much time you’re actually wasting on stuff that isn’t really important. So, here’s the first thing I want you to do:
 
Solution #1: For the next 7 days, assess how you’re spending your time.
 
Here’s the sheet I use to keep track of my schedule. I like this one, mostly because it’s colorful. :-) You can find the original PDF here. Print out 7 copies—one for each day.
 
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A few tweaks I make to the spreadsheet:
  • I don’t really use the “I must do” or “I must contact” sections on the left-hand side, but feel free to use them if they’re helpful to you.
  • I turn the “Notes” section into a “Triggers” section.

So, what are “triggers”?

Triggers are basically anything that causes you to switch from doing something productive (and single-tasking), to doing something less productive or off-task. Examples: If I’m editing an article and a thought pops into my head that I need to look for a new iPad cover, that thought bubble is a trigger for me. If I’m batch-tasking my emails and a colleague leans over to start a conversation, that colleague is a trigger.
 
Triggers can range from a thought to a phone call, an email to a link in an article you’re reading. As you record your days for one week, get in the habit of recognizing triggers, and be as specific as possible when you record what they are. We’ll get back to your triggers on Saturday and help you figure out how to eradicate them. 
As you record your week, here are a few good tools for keeping you focused and energized:
  • Pomodoro Technique - helps you work in bursts of 25 minutes, with a mandatory 5 minute break. You can adjust the timeframes, but this technique is essentially supposed to help you sustain your energy all day. 
  • Rescue Time - everyone from Neil Patel to Tim Ferriss raves about this, but the really useful version costs money. If you’re willing to invest, it’s a great tool.
  • Task Timer - This is a Chrome plug-in. I use it to help me determine how long it’s really taking me to do batch tasks and MITs (more on these later in the week).

WARNING:A quick word of warning about tracking your time. It’s very easy to forget to track things in detail. I’d set a recurring reminder on your calendar every hour so you can take 2-3 minutes to track what you’ve done for the past hour. Otherwise, you’ll get lost in a task, not record what you did for 3-4 hours at a time, and your data won’t be that detailed or useful.

So use a calendar reminder every hour for the next week! I promise, it’s not as annoying as it sounds.

Problem #2: We don’t take enough time to assess results and figure out how to do more of what’s working. 

Obviously, if we’re not even taking time to track how we’re spending our time, we’re certainly not maximizing the learnings we could get from analyzing our results and figuring out what’s driving them. So that’s the next thing I want you to do:

Solution #2: Assess your schedule for the week. 
Once you’ve got an entire week’s worth of data on how you spent your time, put your tasks into different activity buckets (i.e. social media, checking work email, checking personal email, writing, planning, meetings, calls, travel, relaxation time, web surfing, news reading, sales calls, getting ready for work, preparing meals, etc.). Then, come up with a percentage of time spent on each activity given the number of hours you are “at work” per week. Here’s what my work assessment looked like, so you get a sense of how to put your own together: 
 
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Though it was a slightly atypical week, quite frankly, I was still shocked by how much of my week I spent in meetings and in my inbox. Once I put this analysis together, I could very clearly see my problem areas, and then know exactly where I needed to develop more efficient systems for myself.

Finally, answer this question:
What 20% is driving 80% of your results? 
This question is based on the Pareto Principle, which states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.
 
So, determine what 20% of your work is driving 80% of your results, and what 80% of your work is driving 20% of the results. Create a two-column chart for the highest and lowest results-driven behaviors.
The tasks under my “Most Productive” tab generated a high return on investment for me. Those are my “20%” tasks (you can tweak this number for whatever works…could be 10/90 or 30/70 for you). Later this week, we’ll talk about how to spend more time fitting your high productivity tasks into your schedule so that you have more time to do those things instead of the time-wasters that suck up 70-90% of your time.
 
As an aside, I know we all spend a lot of time browsing the web and consuming news, which I am going to guess is a bit of a time suck for everyone reading this. Here’s a great mini e-book from Tim Ferriss about putting yourself on a low-information diet.
 
Based on everything I outlined above, tomorrow, I’ll take you through a fail-proof goal-setting method.
 
Hope you’ll share this with anyone who could get use out of it!

People Always Make Time for What is Important to Them.

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Time is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. There never seems to be enough of it, does there? 

That’s what makes it kind of magical, though. Time is the one limited resource we have that we can’t just go out and get more of. It’s the one thing we have to be really careful about giving away. 

That’s why I love this manifesto so much, written by my friends Mike, Dave, and Fabian at HOLSTEE

This manifesto has been viewed over 60 million times, and shared over half a million times. No joke. 

Why? 

Why do people care so much about this manifesto? They’re just words on a page, right? 

False. 

People love this manifesto because, at the heart of every line, it’s about not wasting time. Do what you love. If you don’t love what you do, quit. If you don’t have enough time, stop watching TV. Stop looking for the love of your life; you’ll find that person when you do what you love. Share your passion. Get lost to find yourself. Travel often. 

Some opportunities come only once; sieze them.

If you’re reading this right now, are you seizing your life? I can tell you I’m not perfect at this myself. I’m in Austin for SXSW, and still, I’m sitting by my computer at 9pm writing and editing. There’s part of me, just like so many others out there, that’s terrified of failure. But you know what happens in the process of trying to do everything you need to do? 

You miss the moments. You dismiss serendipitous opportunities. You forget where you are and who you’re with. And that’s lame. 

No matter how much or how hard you work, there will always be more to do. In fact, the more committed you are to achievement, the more you’ll have on your to-do list. 

I’m learning, little by little, to let go of the idea that I have to get everything done. I’m learning—slowly, but surely—to let go of that anxious feeling I get in the silent moments when I’m not typing away on my computer or out networking with a group of people. And I’m doing my best to remember what I know at my core to be true: that the silent moments and unexpected events are what I’ll remember when my time on this awesome planet is over. 

So, I’m going to finish up what I need to do tonight. And then, for the next 4 days, I’m going to be totally present. I’m not going to try and be everywhere at once. I’m not going to attempt to hop in between 10 different SXSW parties in 3 hours. I’m going to focus on creating awesome memories, giving my full time and attention to whoever I meet, and just soaking up this amazing experience—this amazing life. 

I’d challenge you to do the same, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing.

How are you spending your time? Are you happy with the way you’re distributing your 24 hours each day? Are you living out a memorable life? 

If you’re complaining about not having enough time, stop. 

You can always make time for what’s important to you. 

The more important and invaluable thing? Knowing what’s important to you. 

So, go do whatever that is. Life is short—so don’t waste it. 

Why I’m Spending Much Less Time in My Inbox Going Forward

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I’m a fan of the Pareto principle—the concept that 20% of what we do drives 80% of the results we get. 

That means 80% of the work we do is, at best, of minimal importance. In my opinion, email almost always falls into this bucket. 

Almost all of us have a vague sense that we spend too much time in email. If we were to actually calculate it, I bet we’d find that we check our inboxes 1-2 dozen times throughout any given day. Some of us check it literally every five minutes. But here’s what that translates into:

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(Note: The calculation above assumes you’re checking email every 5 minutes during 8 hours of work per day, 5 days per week, for 50 weeks out of every year—and not checking email during your standard two weeks of annual vacation.)

Can you imagine the kind of amazing work we could churn out in the time we spend thinking about, checking, deleting, filing, and answering emails? A lot. We could do a lot of amazing work. 

More and more, I believe life’s best work is done outside of the inbox, so I’m actively working to spend less time in mine these days.

For those who email me, it may take me a while to get back to you—please know it’s not for lack of love! If something is time sensitive, you can always send me a note here.

For those of you who feel the same way (i.e. you want to spend less time in your inbox and more time working on rad stuff that makes a true long-term difference), here’s a list of the 15 best articles to help you become super awesome at email management:
  1. Email is Taking Over & Only You Can Stop It <— my thoughts exactly.
  2. Stop Checking Email (the results of the experiment in the link above)
  3. The Low-Information Diet: Eliminate Email Overload & Triple Productivity in 24 Hours <—fantastic free ebook by Tim Ferriss
  4. How Batch Processing Makes You 10 Times More Productive
  5. Why Email is Addictive (and What to Do About it) <— great read for the highly analytical/academic minds out there
  6. Your Emails Are Too Long so use…
  7. Five Sentences (I need to work on this!)
  8. Best Guide Ever to Inbox Zero
  9. Inbox Minimalism
  10. Why You Suck at Email
  11. Managing Email Effectively
  12. 10 Steps to Becoming an Email Ninja
  13. Email Sanity: How to Clear Your Inbox When You’re Drowning
  14. 5 Stellar Apps to Manage Your Crazy-Ass Inbox (from yours truly)
  15. Three Fantastic Email Auto Responders to Break Email Addiction
And to remind you of what truly matters, check out this ebook Seth Godin put together: What Matters Now.
 
Here’s to a well-lived life outside of the inbox,

Melissa

Feeling Overwhelmed By Your Inbox, Calendar, To-Do List, etc.? Read This.

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Life is a crazy, crazy balancing act, isn’t it?

There is just so much going on in the world. Every day is filled with work and new projects and blogs and news and errands and relationships to manage and bills to pay and calls to make and fires to put out. And EMAILS. Gosh—nothing stresses me out quite like an overflowing inbox.

I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve been feeling a lot like this lately:

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Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not getting on the “I’m soooo busy” bandwagon. I read articles like this one about the “busy trap”, some part of me nods in agreement.

In his article about “The Busy Trap” in the link above, Tim Kreider writes, “Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.”

The first time I read that, I thought, “That’s so spot on.” But in thinking more about it, I’m realizing that addiction to busyness is only small part of the problem.

Yes, we’ve created a culture where we’re expected to work 50+ hours a week (which, by the way, very few of us do. We tend to drastically overestimate the number of hours we work each week). But then, we all begin talking about bestselling books like the 4-Hour-Workweek, and swing in the totally opposite direction. One day, we feel guilty for leaving work at 5pm; and the next day, we feel guilty about staying up until 2am to answer our emails. 

I’m just so tired of the noise— the constant stream of information and advice about all the productivity tools we need, how many hours a week we should be working, what we should be doing with our time.

Why is it so hard for us to be truly productive while we’re in work mode, and then just give ourselves the physical and mental break to really chill out? Why is it so hard for us to not be stressed and anxious about everything on our plates?

I was telling my friend Liz last night about everything that’s been going on in my life over the last few months, and everything I’m balancing on my plate now. And she said, “Are you taking time to just…BE?”

Shit. No. I’m not. 

So, I got off the phone with Liz and really thought about what this was all about—that constant, subtle, nagging feeling of anxiousness that I need to go edit something, tackle another project, answer my missed calls, clean out my inbox.

And that’s when it hit me. I don’t think the large majority of us choose to feel overwhelmed about all of the things we have to or want to do because we’re addicted to the idea of having a full schedule just so we can feel important. That’s really not the heart of the problem at all. 

The heart of the problem is that so few of us take time to figure out what really matters to us. We forget to eliminate all but the essential.

As a result, it’s so much harder for us to say “no” to the coffee meetings and dinners and events that won’t add a lot of value. It’s so much easier for us to get swept up in trying to be perfect by answering every email and phone call. So, we get overwhelmed by the need to do it all. And then we wonder why we spend too much time reading a never-ending stream of news articles, spending hours watching YouTube videos, and constantly checking our social media streams. When you’re disconnected from your purpose, it’s easy to fill the time with the pointless-but-instantly-gratifying stuff. 

Well, I’ve had enough.

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I’m tired of feeling like I need to answer every email, read every interesting news article, see every tweet, check social media 10+ times a day. I just don’t. It’s not the stuff that makes me happy. It’s not the stuff I’ll look back on in 50 years and think, “I really wish I had spent more time watching television, or tweeting, or going to tech events.”

My personality is an overwhelming flavor of ambitious. Sometimes, I want to stay up until 3am to work, because I love my work. But you know what? Sometimes, I just want to drink a glass of wine and go to bed. Sometimes, I want to go to a tech event; other times, I want to grab non-vegan ice cream with someone I love and wander around Chicago aimlessly. 

The problem we face with being anxious, overwhelmed, and busy with all of the wrong things isn’t new. Steven Covey got it exactly right decades ago—the real problem is that we don’t put our big rocks first.

The only difference between now and the 80’s is that it’s so much easier now for “small rocks” to get in the way—email, social media, meetings, news streams, bottomless RSS feeds, etc.  

I think my friend Jenny Blake hits the nail on the head with her post about the 5 Timeless Productivity Habits

It’s not about how much we get done. It’s about deciding what really matters most to us, making sure we make time for those things, and then not worrying about the rest. 

Going forward, I’m going to remind myself, moment by moment, of what really matters to me. I’m plugging all of it into my calendar to make sure I’m making the time for my big rocks (learn more about big rocks here):

  • Nurturing relationships w/ family and close friends
  • Exercise & eating well
  • Growing Technori
  • Writing every day
  • Adventuring
  • Inspired Learning
  • Church/Exploring Faith
  • Time for gratitude and giving back

If the small rocks don’t fit into the time I have left, they don’t fit. If I don’t get to every email or can’t take every coffee meeting, so be it. It’s time to be okay with not having the time to do everything, and getting over the need to explain why I can’t to others. 

It’s time to stop trying to be in control, and just savor this life.

Let’s all do more of what brings us and others joy. If that sounds like a plan to you, what you have to do next is quite simple: 

  1. Make a short list of what truly matters most to you (i.e. your big rocks).
  2. Plug time into your calendar every week/month to spend time on those things.
  3. Do not let any small rocks get in the way of the big rocks. If someone tries to schedule a meeting or a call or whatever during a “big rock” block of time, the answer is NO
  4. Have the courage to let go of being perfect when life gets insane.

That’s really all there is to it. 

Here’s to putting our big rocks first, and enjoying the sweetness of life we’ll experience as a result.

5 Stellar Apps to Manage Your Crazy-Ass Inbox. I Promise, These Will Make Your Life Better.

I’m just going to preface this post by saying I honestly can’t stand email. While I think it’s a great way to connect and convey important information, it gets used inefficiently and borderline inappropriately far too often.

There isn’t a single part of our tech lives that gives us more anxiety and stress than email, other than maybe privacy concerns. Seriously, do we really need a back-and-forth chain of a dozen emails just to decide on a date for coffee? Just call me, please. Or a gazillion emails between a team to make a business decision? Basecamp that shit. It drives me nutty when email moves from important information sharing to blatant inefficiency. 

Anyway, I digress. We all have to live with it, so I’m basically building a fort of cool add-ons to make the whole process less laborious. Why? So I can spend time doing more of what I love, like creating actual stuff and building relationships offline.  

Here are the 5 apps I use to manage my crazy-ass inbox. 

1. Sparrow

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I’m addicted to Sparrow, which gives you a beautifully simple, streamlined version of your inbox. It’s super lightweight and fast, there is a “quick reply” feature that streamlines the whole process of responding to emails, and I’m so much more likely to get to inbox zero while using this app. Not gonna lie, I also really like that I can color code my mail folders. It makes for a much more aesthetically pleasing email experience. It’s completely integrated with Gmail—and while you can hack the Gmail experience to hyper-optimize it, there’s something awesome and non-distracting to me about Sparrow that just makes me feel better about spending time in my inbox.

The one thing I love most about Sparrow is that I can seamlessly unify all of my inboxes, which is absolutely ideal for the sake of efficiency. It’s a lot harder to do that in Gmail unless you have two windows open or forward all of your mail to one account. 

However, I am vacillating back and forth between Sparrow and Gmail now. To be honest, I’m having a hard time deciding if I should start transitioning back to the Gmail interface completely. For one thing, Sparrow just got acquired by Gmail…so I have a feeling the product will cease to improve in the long-term future. For another, some of the apps on the market now integrate beautifully with Gmail - namely, the next two below on this list, which are incredible.

2. Rapportive

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These are like contact profiles built right into your inbox - pretty rad. When you’re emailing with someone you just met, Rapportive will often show you that person’s picture, title, location, tweet stream, and social media profile links so you can connect with him or her seamlessly on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Skype, Tumblr, etc. You can also add your own personal notes so you’ll always remember how you met people on the fringes of your personal and business networks. 

3. INBOX PAUSE

Holy game changer!

You know why it’s so easy to get sucked into your inbox for five hours? Because once you get rid of an email, two more pop up. So, it’s hard not to pay attention to all of the new emails coming in. Enter: INBOX PAUSE, my new hero and possibly the best Gmail-integrated app, like, ever. 

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Essentially, when you integrate INBOX PAUSE, a button appears in your inbox that allows you to pause incoming mail from showing up in your inbox for as long as you’d like. It even sends an email to people while your inbox is paused letting people know it is—so if something is urgent, they should reach you another way. Kinda like a super short, daily version of an official “Out of Office” message. You can focus on getting the emails answered that are already in your inbox without being distracted by the new ones coming in. Talk about efficiency and reducing anxiety! I’m a happier girl because of this app.  

4. Captio

So, you’re standing at a party and someone reminds you to check out a new song or movie. Or, you’re on line at the grocery store and you suddenly remember that you need to follow up on a work project. You don’t want to forget about it, so you email a note to yourself. You have to: (1) open up your mail app, (2) type in your email address, (3) type in a subject line so it doesn’t give you that annoying “but you don’t have a subjeccccct” message, and then (4) send the email. 

Four steps, really? Why is it such a pain in the ass?! 

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Not anymore. Captio saves your email address, and all you have to do is open up the app, type your note, and hit “send.” Ta-da! Your note will appear in your inbox automatically so that you won’t forget and can process it later. Saves you two annoying, pointless steps and about half the time. Yes, please!

5. MailChimp

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When I’m meeting new people and talking about my work, they’ll sometimes ask to be added to one of our mailing lists. That’s the kind of simple thing that’s very easy to lose track of if you just “make a note” to add that person later. A missed opportunity for conversion. We use MailChimp, and the iPhone app allows me to add people to any of our different mailing lists on the spot. It gets done right away, and you avoid having to add one more thing to your to-do list. 

I’d highly recommend using MailChimp if you send out emails and newsletters to groups of people often - whether for business or personal. Plus, the monkey icon is adorable and reminds me of Curious George. A small reminder to always approach life like a curious, happy little kid. :-)

The Best Productivity Books You’ll Ever Read

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Yesterday, I wrote about why most productivity advice is useless

I don’t want you to waste any more time consuming useless content about personal productivity. As promised, here are the beginnings of what will be the best, most comprehensive resource list ever for stellar and genuinely useful productivity, optimization, and life hacking advice. I’ll blog about updates as they occur, but you can always find the most up-to-date master productivity list under the “Most Awesome Lists” here on my blog.

The goal of this list is to make it as simple and intuitive as possible to create a productivity plan that works for you. The resources in this guide tend to emphasize meaningful minimalism (no, I’m not asking you to throw away everything you own), simplicity, clarity, and focus. It shouldn’t feel like a job to create and implement a personal productivity process that works for you - after all, that would kind of totally defeat the purpose. 

If you’ve got any content suggestions that you want me to personally review and formally add to my productivity resource guide, share it with me.

The Absolute Best Books on Productivity and Time Management

I’ve read countless productivity and time management books, blogs, articles, podcasts, etc. This is a list of the absolute best, most useful books I’ve come across:

1. The Power of Less.

This book is the foundation of my entire personal productivity system. If you could only read any one book, this is the one I’d recommend. Leo Babauta is all about simple productivity that actually makes sense and feels manageable - fun, even. This book goes beyond productivity tips. Babauta encourages you to reflect and fully understand what matters most to you, and why. It’s truly an amazing productivity system because it’s simple. You won’t get caught up in trying to implement an overly-complicated set of processes. If I have any one criticism of the book, it’s that some parts of it are too simplified. He encourages you to only focus on one major goal at a time, which doesn’t fly for Type A “I-can-take-on-the-world” personalities. Heed his advice about not setting too many goals or trying to change too many habits at once, though. He’s spot on about that, regardless of how ambitious you are.

2. Zen to Done.

This is the other Leo Babauta book I’d recommend. He wrote this one before he wrote The Power of Less. In his own words:

Zen To Done takes some of the best aspects of a few popular productivity systems (GTD, Stephen Covey and others) and combines them with the mandate of simplicity. It makes things as simple as possible, and no more.

And he’s not kidding. If you’ve ever tried to read David Allen’s Getting Things Done, that thing is dense with information. It makes productivity feel like a highly stressful and laborious process. Save your time, and read this e-book instead. Ten simple, straightforward habits to change. One at a time. A very good read. 

3. Eat That Frog!

This book is a classic. Brian Tracy has spent his career studying the development of human potential and personal effectiveness. In spite of how brilliant the dude is, he’s managed to whittle this book down to 21 of his top tips for getting more accomplished in less time. All in 117 short pages. #Miracle. If you treat this book like the workbook it was meant to be (there are reflection questions and exercises practically on every page), you’ll get a ton out of it.

4. The 4-Hour Workweek

I think a lot of people initially approach this book with skepticism because, really, who works only 4 hours a week? I certainly don’t. I’m still pretty convinced that Tim Ferriss works harder, smarter, and also longer than most people out there. Nonetheless, once I finally picked it up, it quickly became one of my favorite books. Ferriss truly is the king of life hacking. His area of expertise isn’t so much productivity or weight loss or cooking. Rather,  he knows everything there is to know about learning - quickly. He is big on measuring and analyzing everything, so his advice has been thoroughly tested. The whole book is worth reading, but about half of it is related to lifestyle design and probably not totally applicable, unless you’re about completely re-hauling your lifestyle. If you want to save time and stick to the chapters on productivity, they are:

Chapter 5: The End of Time Management

Chapter 6: The Low-Information Diet

Chapter 7: Interrupting Interruption & The Art of Refusal

Bonus!: Annual Review Guides

Since it’s the start of the new year and everyone is in goal-setting mode, I thought I’d share two of my absolute favorite “annual review” guides. Spend a few days creating your own annual review — and use these guides as reference. You’ll feel so much more prepared for 2013. Promise. 

1. How to Conduct Your Own Annual Review by Chris Guillebeau

…and if you want some more, here is Guillebeau’s annual review archive.

2. Why Wait? A Bullshit-Free Guide to Jump-Starting Your Goals for the New Year by Nicole  Antoinette Ross

Coming up next this week: I’ll share lists of the best productivity and time management blogs, articles, and tools out there. 

Stop Wasting Your Time Listening to Useless Productivity Advice

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I’m a sucker for all things related to productivity and optimization. Interestingly, everyone seems to be utterly fascinated with time management and productivity these days - probably because we’re reaching a threshold as humans; our brains simply can’t keep up with the hundreds of emails, dozens of meetings, countless articles, and never-ending social media streams. Seriously, you guys…are we really wondering why we struggle with productivity? There are a million distractions at any given point in time.

The weird fascination with productivity and time management also means more and more people are spewing out crappy content on these topics, smacking overly sexy titles on articles and books to get you to read something that will just waste more of your time. Don’t you want to know “How to Be Extremely Productive” or “How to Never Waste Time Again” or “Time Management Tricks for Adding Two Hours to Your Day”? Yeah, me too. So, we click on articles like this:

10 Time Management Tips That Work 

…Really? Put up a “Do Not Disturb” sign when you absolutely have to get work done? What if you don’t have a door? What if you work at a startup and live out of a busy, noisy co-working space? What if your boss barges in anyway? What I want to know is how many of the 2,000 people who tweeted about this article actually used any of these 10 “useful” time management tips for more than maybe a week. Yeah. I’m willing to bet not that many. 

Or how about this one:

7 Steps to Incredible Personal Productivity

"Start at 5 a.m. or revisit your college days and start at 6 p.m. and work through the night. Set the stage for an unusually productive day by dramatically changing your normal routine."

…Yup. Because this is practical for about 2% of the world’s population. 

This is probably my favorite of the 7 steps, though: “Delay gratification. Delayed gratification is always better gratification, and in this case can provide just the spark you need to keep going."

That’s fantastic advice. Except for the fact that humans suck at delayed gratification. That’s why so many of us drink, eat, spend money, you-name-it too much.

And the generally useless advice goes on and on and on.

I know you’re fed up, too. You don’t want to search on Google for productivity advice that isn’t really going to help you. You don’t want to read the countless books, or pay for expensive courses.

I hear you. All you want is the best, most simple advice you can find, in one place, so you can spend less time wasting time — and more time on the stuff that matters most to you and the work you can do that will have the greatest impact.

I’ve read countless time management books, blogs, articles, podcasts, etc. And I think I have a pretty damn good sense of the best ones now - the stuff that’s actually worth reading and implementing. 

Tomorrow, I’m releasing a working list of my favorite productivity, optimization, and life hacking resources to date. I’ll be updating this list constantly as I learn more, and you’ll be able to find that - as well as all of my other living resource articles – under the “Most Awesome Lists” tab on my blog.

So, please don’t spend any more time consuming useless productivity content. I’m going to build the best, most comprehensive resource list ever so that you don’t have to waste another minute sifting through “advice” that is silly or near impossible to implement.

In the meantime, check out this fantastic article on Harvard Business Review. It will reassure you that you’re not the only one out there struggling with productivity – and the author, Edward Hallowell, does a great job of explaining why.

Overloaded Circuits: Why Smart People Underperform

(You have to sign up for a free account to get access to the full article, but it’s so worth it.)