Review: Level Up Your Life By Steve Kamb

I first picked up Level Up Your Life from my Barnes and Noble section one autumn day. About two weeks later I was taking a trip to the Canadian Rockies hiking down the canyons of Alberta.

It’ll be easy to say that this book is the sole inspiration my adventurous attitude and start traveling more, but truth be told, it was not. Instead this book offered me a new perspective on life by thinking of everything more like a video game. If I wanted to take on the Quests of a Lifetime I need to first get out of my comfort zone and explore the land around me.

No longer was I associating my Impossible List as challenging items that build upon one another. Instead I think of them as Epic Quests that take me on an adventure through life’s many obstacles. It has made life’s adventure much more enjoyable and has helped change how I focus on goals.

That is why I am choosing Level Up Your Life to be the first of my monthly productivity book review series. In it I’ll be going over what this book is about, just what you’ll get from it, and who this book is best geared towards.

So What’s the Book About?

Level Up Your Life is written by fitness instructor, Steve Kamb. Steve takes ideas from nerd culture and combines them with productivity-building habits to create a more gamified perspective on life. Steve goes on to explore how you can transform your life to make you the hero of your own story. In this book you’ll find various life-building skills and ways to treat life’s various challenges like game-related Quests.

Who’s The Author?

Steve started out as another person living The American Dream, by earning his keep at a soul-crushing job day-in and day-out. Tired of living the life of sales, Steve quite his job and took up a career setting up for musical festivals for half the pay. During his time working his exciting new Job, Steve started to focus on blogging.

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Steve has set a name for himself in the online community. In addition to being the author of Level Up Your Life Steve is also the founder of Nerd Fitness, a self-improvement blog filled with various Health and Fitness guides.

Steve’s website started the community known as The Rebellion, which currently has over 100,000 Rebels inspired to take the challenge to change their lives for the better.

The Juicy Content

Before we dive too deep into this book let’s take a quick look at what Gamification is:

“Gamification is the concept of applying game mechanics and game design techniques to engage and motivate people to achieve their goals.”  ~Gamification Wiki

There are quite a few popular business models that build themselves on gamification(e.g Habitica and Zombies Run!) and Level Up Your Life is certainly one of them.

Steve tends to use a lot of nerd culture references to illustrate just how easy it is to think of life as just one big video game. We are not just loners trying to battle out the difficulties life throws at us. Instead we are all characters striving to improve our Strength and Education skills that will help us on our Quests through life.

An awesome part about Level Up Your Life is that it doesn’t throw you into the water. Steve teaches you how to get into gamification from ground zero. As you familiarize yourself with these concepts you can move yourself up towards bettering your abilities and starting on quests. As the book puts it:

You don’t go from Level 1 to Level 50 right? You go from Level 1 to Level 2, to Level 3, and so on. There’s a very clear progression from Zero to Hero, from newbie to badass.

This is why the book goes into thorough detail on beginner level exercises for those new to fitness. As well as an in-depth guide to help you build your Epic Quest Of Awesome.

Level Up Your Life is formatted a bit differently than what you’d normally expect from a book. Steve himself is a blogger, and that becomes prevalent in his book’s formatting. Through use of spacing, formatting, and color coding, you will find that this book is going to be quite a quick read.

Who Should Read This?

This book is riddled with Sci-Fi, gaming, and other geek references that may be lost if you’re totally unfamiliar the culture. Due to this, it’s catered more towards the people who are striving to better themselves and enjoy geek culture.

If you love the idea of Gamification I would highly recommend this book. Steve presents his ideas in a way that screams passion. It’s really hard not to pick up this book and get a few laughs from it then putting it down feeling motivated to start questing.

Final Thoughts?

It’s no secret that I’m a lover of Gamification, so this book was a very enjoyable experience every page-turn. Even after reading this book I ended up transforming my Impossible List into my own Quest of Awesome. It’s hard to pick a part this book as it excels in its purpose. Level Up Your Life offers a breath of fresh air on self-improvement and offers detailed instructions on how to join what 100,000 other rebels have done.

If there’s anything I had to nitpick about this book it is the oddly placed formatting of the Meet The Rebel sections in each chapter. Very few of these sections fit nicely in the chapter and do not pop at you in the middle of a sentence. However, this is just a minor complaint.

After reading Level Up Your Life, it’s easy to see why so many people joined The Rebellion. I too felt inspired by Steve Kamb’s book and use his teachings towards my own life. So I guess you can also consider me part of The Rebellion.

For more information on Steve Kamb and Level Up Your Life you can check out his website at Nerd Fitness or buy the book here.
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Epic Quest of Awesome

It’s Day 5 now since I started questing at Nerd Fitness Academy, and I have to say, the experience has been very fun so far. As I battle Bosses and Gain XP I am working each day to try to implement Steve Kamb’s Level Up Your Life ideals into my own.

This of course, means making my own Epic Quest of Awesome(Which, in short is a gamified bucket list). I have overlooked my Impossible List carefully and followed suit to separated each item into it’s own Quest Category.

Each Quest is worth 20 XP. After every 100XP is hit(or 5 Quests total) I gain a level. In addition to regular quests there are also Master Quests, extremely difficult quests that automatically level you up once you hit them.

The one tweak I’m making to my EQA draws from my Runescape-playing days, and color code the quests. Each Quests will be colored as such:

  • Quest Completed
  • Quest Started
  • Quest Not Started

Russ’ Epic Quest of Awesome

Below you will find a list of what I want to accomplish over the years. My Epic Quest is a progress and is subjected to change over time.

Completed Quests

Level 2

Level 1

North America Quests

  • Rock Climb Devil’s Tower
  • 50 points in 50 States(2/50)
  • Snow Board in Jasper, Canada
  • See an Aurora Borealis
  • Hike the Ice Age Trail(More Info.)
  • Strawberry Hill(More Info.)
  • Corn Palace(Morn Info.)
  • Travel to Canada

Central/South America Quests

  • Backflip on top of Macchu Picchu

Europe Quests

  • Paraglide in Chamonix Europe
  • Step foot in Sweden
  • Hot Air Balloon Ride in Sweden
  • Marcle Aches Cave(More Info.)

Africa Quests

  • Surf in Killer Point Mocorro

Far East Quests

  • Go to a Japaense Hot Spring
  • Bunny Island, Japan
  • Fuji Mountain Race(More Info.)

South Pacific Quests

  • A Simple Walk Into Mordor(More Info.)
  • Scuba Dive Australia’s Coral Reef
  • Bungee Jump off Victoria Fall Ridge

Ninja/Strength Quests

  • 10 Years Martial Arts(1/10)
  • 10 Years Weaponry(0/10)
  • Complete All Fitocracy Quests(More Info.)
  • Run Alpha Warrior(Texas & California)(More Info.)
  • 5 No-Kip Muscle Ups
  • 15 Second Human Flag
  • Sign White Block at Fight or Flight Academy
  • Post a 5-Minute Parkour Montage
  • Pick a Master lock

Flips & Twists Quests

  • Front Flip
  • Back Flip
  • Aerial
  • Side Flip
  • Corkscrew
  • 540 Kick

Personal Level-Up Quests

  • Skinny Dipping
  • Cliff Swinging
  • Make Food(Cheese, Wine, Yogurt)
  • Visit A Sunken Ship
  • Take A Sniper’s Course
  • Get a Wax
  • 1,000 Photo Challenge[Progress]
  • 1,000 Geocaches
  • Spontaneous Vacation

Rock Star Quests

  • [PIANO] Piano Man By Billy Joel
  • [PIANO] Roses and Butterflies By Making April
  • [PIANO]  Guitar vs Piano By Goukisan
  • [GUITAR] Guitar vs Piano By Goukisan
  • [HARMONICA] The Times They Are Changing by Bob Dylan
  • [HARMONICA] Piano Man By Billy Joel

Education Quests

  • Get a Helicopter Pilot License
  • Become SCUBA Certified
  • Learn to Sail A Boat
  • Get a Motorcycle  License
  • Publish a Mobile App
  • Write a Novel
  • Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree
  • Obtain a Master’s Degree

Les Stroud/Survivalist Quests

  • Score 300 With Recurve Bow[More Info.]
  • Make Deer Jerky
  • Finish a Survival Adventure Race[More Info.]
  • Wilderness First Responder Certification
  • Waterfront Lifeguard Certification
  • Build and Shoot Arrows from Scratch
  • Take a NOLS semester Course[More Info.]
  • 7-Day Survival with BOB
  • 21-Day Survival, only Knife

Running & Races Quests

  • First Marathon
  • Barefoot Marathon
  • Minneapolis Ground Rounds(51 Miles)(More Info.)
  • 50-Ultra Marathon
  • 100-Ultra Marathon
  • Spartan Sprint
  • Spartan Super
  • Spartan Beast
  • Spartan Trifecta(Sprint + Super + Beast In 1 Year)
  • Triathlon Sprint(750m S/20K B/ 5K R)
  • Triathlon Olympic (1500m S/40K B/ 10K R)
  • Triathlon Half-Iron(1.2 mi S/90K B/21K  R)
  • Triathlon Iron(2.4 mi S/180K B/42K R)

Events/Conferences Quests

  • Eeyore’s Birthday
  • Room 13 San Antonia[More Info.]
  • Sundance Film Festival
  • Cirque De Loteil
  • Google Local Guides Summit
  • Red Bull Art of Motion

Financial Quests

  • Have $10,000+ in Saving before 2019
  • Adopt a Minnesota Highway
  • Earn 1,000 Subscribers on Challenge List

Master Quests

  • Get A Career Allowing Me to Live Anywhere
  • Completed a Barkley Marathon[More Info]
  • Obtain a PhD

Challenge List Mini-Quests

 

 

 

 

2017: Year of Productivity

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It’s another year which means it’s once again time to reflect on last year’s accomplishments and start looking towards what we want to do in the new year.

For many of us, this means making resolutions that we plan complete, but for one reason or another, never do.

I, for one, hate the idea of resolutions. I feel that most of the time when people make resolutions they make them very general and uninspiring. In the end, a lot of people never keep up to their resolutions and drop them all together by early February.

This is what led me to create The Challenge List, in which I set out a number of challenges for myself and try to complete them before the end of the year. These challenges are made to push me out of my comfort zone and improve both the mind and body.

Throughout the year I’ll be sharing what I learned form taking on these challenges. During my journey I’ll also be experimenting with different productivity methods and utilizing ideas from Tim Ferris, Charles Durhigg, and other productivity experts. As I try out these productivity ideas I’ll be posting what worked and what didn’t,and what can be learned from applying these concepts.

2017 Challenges

Progress: 6/20
Last Updated: July 24th, 2017

  1. Swim 2 Consecutive Miles in Open Water
  2. Finish a Tough Mudder[ACCOMPLISHED July 15th, 2017]
  3. Take a BOB Survival Course
  4. Shoot 150 Points in Archery[ACCOMPLISHED June 29th, 2017]
  5. Develop A University Capstone App
  6. Obtain my Bachelor’s Degree
  7. Get into Advanced Krav Maga Classes
  8. Get into Intermediate Swords Classes
  9. Get into Advance Parkour & Free Running Classes
  10. Climb Black Edge Peak, South Dakota[ACCOMPLISHED July 19th, 2017]
  11. Earn a Front-End Web Dev Certificate at Free Code Camp
  12. Be a Nerd Fitness Rebel for 365 Days
  13. Finish A Triathlon Sprint[ACCOMPLISHED June 3rd, 2017]
  14. Post 50 Blogs in the Challenge List
  15. Make a 5-min Parkour video
  16. Read A Productivity Book A Month
  17. Become a Level 4 Blacksmith on Habitica
  18. Make Cheese
  19. Snowboard Down Green Circle Slope[ACCOMPLISHED February 19th, 2017]
  20. Get a Development Related job [ACCOMPLISHED February 28th, 2017]

You can follow me on my journey by clicking on the Follow Button on the right side of the screen. If you also have any Challenges or Goals for 2017 let me hear them in the comments below!

The 2016 Round-Up: Biggest Takeaways From A Year of Challenges

It’s that time of the year again!

It’s the end of the year, and that means it’s time to step back and reflect back on 2016’s Challenge List. This is where I take a step back to review the list and go over what went awesome, what didn’t go so great, and what was learned as a result.

So let’s take a look at total amount of challenges completed for 2016:

18/25

In total, I managed to complete 72% of all challenges on my list. Some of the more notable tasks included:

  • Running a Spartan Race
  • Publishing an Android App
  • Tripling my distance record for swimming
  • Taking a trip out of the country
  • Building and shooting an arrow from scratch
  • and many more

While this was a year for new experiences, it also had one of the most pivotal moments that changed how I view productivity. With many successes came many learning experiences. With these learning experiences I plan on taking on 2017 with these ideas in mind:

Better to Be SMART Instead of Busy

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If I had to pinpoint my biggest mistake for 2016 it would have to be doing my 20 Things A Month experiment. You see, back in early February I had an idea that would push me to get things done. In order to motivate me to focus on my yearly challenges, I would select several tasks each month and then draw them up on a list of 20 things to complete at the end of the month.

My initial thought was that if  I broke it down like this I can chip at each tasks little by little and complete almost all of it by the end of the year.

Instead, I ended up finding myself pulling out my hair each day constantly doing work but barely making any significant progress towards my Challenge List goals.

It wasn’t until I listened to a podcast interview of Smarter, Faster Better‘s author Charles Durhigg that I realized what I was doing.

I crafted my To-Do lists to make me busy, not productive. Sure I would be spending 15 hours a day, working my brain and body to mush, but all of that was pointless because I was tackling small, insignificant tasks on my list in attempt to cross more items off.

I was experiencing, what is known as a False Authentic Pride, where you working towards  feelings of the little dopamine effects you get from doing small accomplishments  instead of working towards the much grander feeling of accomplishing something worthwhile.

Now I’ll be tackling on my tasks with SMART Goals in order to handle the bigger, more difficult tasks on my list and get much more done.

After learning this it led to another way I need to tackle my goals

Work Towards The Long-Term Goals

As Steve Kamb said in his book, Level Up Your Life:
Think of each big quest on your list as a series of tiny, incremental quests. If we can create 10 steps to a mastery of a skill, then we can focus our energy on simply putting one foot in front of the other and the process will take of itself
After hearing reading this it sparked something in my mind: There are very different feelings between how I feel accomplishing each challenge.

Each challenge I’ve completed thus far has been no stroll in the park. If I wasn’t pushing myself to go beyond my physical and mental limits, I was pushing myself to do things that went beyond my comfortable zone.

The problem is, I found that the challenges that ended up going towards my overall goals(i.e. My Impossible List) were far more satisfying than those I wanted to do because I thought it would be “fun” or “look cool”.

This caused my focus to shift towards my long-term goals instead of short-term, spontaneous goals. As a result, I didn’t really work towards some of these items as hard as others. My energy and focus went towards my long term goals, and each one I crossed off ended up giving me a more deserved feeling of accomplishment as well as put me that much closer to being who I want to be.

With that being said, there is one last thing I will be doing for 2017

Do A Lot in A Little, Not A Little in A Lot

Probably the biggest thing I’ve been debating about these last two years has been the number of items I’ve used on my list. I’ve done 25 challenges for 2 years now and each year I only get close to finishing 20 of them. Each item I work on typically takes a long time and a lot of focus to complete, so trying to do an average of over 2 per month starts to look less realistic.

If I really want to buckle down and finish off my goals I need to shorten my list so I can give it my all. But than that begs the question, how many challenges do I do? 20 challenges, 15 challenges, 10 challenges?

Well… That’s still up to debate. Right now I have quite a few items already sorted out for 2017’s list.

The idea I’m leaning on most is to cap the limit on 20  items and attempt to do 5 extra if I finish my list with a lot of time to spare. There would be something more definitive in my post for 2017’s Challenge List.

All and all though, I have to say that this year proved to be a great year for experimentation and learning. I am looking forward to this upcoming year and cannot wait to see what’s to come.

For all of you out there, I hope you had a great 2016, and shoot hard for an even better 2017. Train hard, and I’ll see you next year!

10 Apps To Eliminate Distraction And Become Focus Driven

“Distraction destroys action. If it’s not moving you towards your purpose, leave it alone” ~Jermaine Riley

Whenever we work we often find ourselves battling one of our greatest enemies, distraction. It is that obstacle that keeps you from writing that essay, finishing that long-term project, or just stopping you from getting things done. It becomes even more difficult when we are living in an age where distractions are just a click away.

Despite how valuable the internet has become the endless cat videos and memes have made it far easier for us to procrastinate. Luckily, there are tools out there that work to combat against these distractions. Below are my picks for the top tools to make you the focus-driven worker you set out to be.

StayFocused

What Does It Do: Blocks Websites
Supported Software: Chrome

StayFocused has held it’s reign as one of the top contenders for website blocking, and for good reason. StayFocused is highly configurable, allowing you to block any websites in a domain or just specific sub-domains. You set the time for how long you want to block it when you want to block it. If you don’t want go cold turkey quite yet StayFocused also has the option to set how many times a day you can access a webpage before it blocks it.

Price: Free

BlockSite

What Does It Do: Blocks Websites
Supported Software: Chrome

BlockSite is the plug-in I am currently using to block distracting websites. While it may not be as configurable as StayFocused this plug-in is just as excellent for getting the job done. BlockSite allows you to create a blacklist of sites and provides a quick-add option to any site you wish to block.

One of the reasons I love this tool is the built-in search filter. Back when I was at the pinnacle of internet distraction I would go as far as Googling proxies to access my blacklisted sites. BlockList was just powerhouse tool I needed to help fully eliminate my distractions

Price: Free

LeechBlock

What Does It Do: Blocks Websites
Supported Software: Firefox

If you are a FireFox user, LeechBlock will be just the software you need to stay focus. This Firefox Add-On is quick and easy to install and takes seconds to set-up. Similar to StayFocused, this tool is very configurable, allowing you to set the times and days to block certain websites or redirect them to another site.

LeechBlock also features several customizable tabs to categorize how you want to block certain sites. If you want to go more hardcore you can change some of the advanced settings to make it impossible to unblock certain sites without reinstalling FireFox all together.

Price: Free

Focus Booster

What Does It Do: Blocks Apps, Distraction Websites
Supported Software: Mac, Windows

Focus Booster takes from the famous Promodoro Technique by allowing you to block applications for 25 minutes then gives you 5 minute breaks. Users will be able to set different types of tasks they want to focus on and what will need to be blocked during that time. Along with being able to block software, Focus Booster also allows you to track your sessions to see how you progress.

Price: Free for first 20 sessions, then costs $3-5/month

Self-Control

What Does It Do: Blocks Apps, E-mails, Distracting Websites
Supported Software: Mac

SelfControl is one of the more powerful software tools featured on this list. Mac users can download this program and set a timer to block E-mail Servers, Applications, and Websites. Once the software’s timer starts the blocker will not stop until time is up, even if you restart your machine.

Price: Free

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Time-Out

What Does It Do: Reminds You To Take Breaks
Supported Software: Mac

Unlike our previously software on the list, Time-Out doesn’t block distracting software. Users can set a time for how long they want to work on a task. Then, when the timer counts to 0, the screen will dim and a pop up notification will show up reminding you to take a break.During this break time, Time-Out users can type out anything on their mind while a progress bar appears below telling them how long the break will last. Time-Out’s break times can be configured to occur only on certain applications or during certain times.

Price: Free

FocusMe

What Does It Do: Blocks App, Distracting Websites
Supported Software:
Windows

FocusMe is an application similar to Self-Control. Users are able to make a list of different website and software they wish to block. A timer is then set making any of the listed items blocked until the timer reaches 0.

Price: 30-day free trial, Prices vary

Focus Lock

What Does It Do: Blocks Mobile Applications
Supported Software: Android

Focus Lock follows similar mechanics as Focus Booster. Once enabled, Focus Lock will block any applications for 25 minutes then provide 5 minute breaks. All you need is to add your applications to the black list and set your working times. If you try to open up the application during the block time you will see a App Locked screen.

Price: Free

Forest: Stay Focused

What Does It Do: Prevents You Using Your Phone
Supported Software: Android, iPhone

Recently release to the iTunes store, Forest: Stay Focused, has been an amazing game to help mobile users stay focused. The game’s mechanics are simple, you plant a seed and must wait 30 minutes for the seed to grow. Once the 30 minutes are up the plant will grow into a tree and can be planted in a plot of land. However, if you leave the app before the timer runs out the tree will wither away. A clever way to prevent users from touching their phones to check Facebook or play Games.

Price: Free

White Noise Free

What Does It Do: Provides White Noise
Supported Software: Android, iPhone

A lot of these items on the list have been software that is used to blocked distracting websites and software. White Noise Free works to block another distraction: A noisy workplace environment. This mobile app has over 40 different sounds that help mask any noises around you to create a quiet space. To get the best effect I would recommend using this application with headphones.

Price: Free

Have a favorite tool that wasn’t featured? Let me know in the comments!

How To Do The Most In A Day

Stop me if this rings a bell: It is the start of a new day, you take a look at all the things you have to-do today. You have a full day ahead of you to get things done.

Fast forward to later that evening. Your time to work is almost up, you still have so much left to do and the deadline to complete them is drawing near. You are likely going to be staying up late just to get them done in time. I know I had my fair share of those days

While I may have spent each day crossing off my tasks, taking minimal breaks each day, by the end of the day I had accomplished almost nothing meaningful. This was because I kept making the same mistake every single day:

I was making not making a SMART To-Do List.

If I wanted to make sure I was getting the most done each day I had to figure out a way to improve my To-Do List. Fortunately for me, I discovered a way that helped increased my productivity by 1000%.

What Makes A Good To-Do List?

As Charles Durhigg describes in, Smarter Faster Better, a To-Do List should have the most important task first. Although, many of us don’t do this and fall into a spiral of spending each day finishing the easiest tasks first while leaving the more essential ones unfinished.

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One of the reasons why we often don’t do the most important tasks first is because we tend to build our To-Do list, but do not consider why they’re on there in the first place. Sure, if I work on a task I would happy to have finished it, but is its purpose valuable enough to focus on?

Most of the time the answer is no. We like to think that completing the task is as equally rewarding as the others on our list, but what ends up happening is that we focus on the wrong tasks we want to complete.

We feel what is known as Authentic Pride, otherwise known as the joy given when we feel like we’re accomplishing something. However, this is not true authentic pride, rather a dopamine effect we get when we cross off a few items on our list.

While it is definitely beneficially to write down your To-Do list down on paper, or use an electronic To-Do builder like Habitica or To-Do Ist, this is almost meaningless if the list is built without a thoughtful approach.

To make the most impacting To-Do List, these three rules are essential:

  • There needs to be a reason for doing the tasks
  • It should follow your stretch goals
  • There needs to be flexibility

Building A Better To-Do List

In order to figure out what tasks we should focus on it’s a important to think about why we want to focus on them in the first place. Once each item does have a reason figured out, it becomes clearer which ones take precedence over the other.

To figure out what are the most important tasks to focus on, follow along with me with this simple exercise:

  1. Take out a sheet of paper or your favorite electronic note taking software
  2. Separate the list into two columns, one titled To-Dos the other titled Reason
  3. Write down all the things you want to complete by the end of the week in the To-Do column. (1 sentence is more than enough)
  4. Once you finish your To-Do column, review each item and write down why you want to do it in the Reason column. (Again, 1 sentence is more than enough)

Now that you have a clear idea of what each task is and your motivation for doing them, pick out the top four to five most meaningful tasks (sound familiar?) and put them onto another list. By now your list should look something like this:

SMARTGOALS

This list you have created is now what we call your Weekly Stretch Goals.These items on your list are not things you should expect to complete in one day rather they will be broken down to smaller tasks completed throughout the week.

One of the best ways to accomplish this is to create what is known as SMART Goals.

Defining SMART Goals

SMART goals have been a popular way of formatting To-Do List for quite some time now, and that is not surprising. When trying to plot out an effective To-Do List, SMART Goals can become an extremely practical tool to help plan that out. Some of you may be asking yourself,

“What are SMART Goals?”

SMART goals is an acronym used to define each item on a To-Do List and how needs to be worked on. It stands for:

  • Specific – What needs to be accomplished
  • Measurable – How the task will be broken down
  • Achievable – What needs to be done to fully focus
  • Realistic – How you plan on reaching this focus
  • Timeline – When it will be completed

To help illustrate this let me use an example of one stretch goals I have on my list:

Publish an Application on the Google Play Store

Right here I have a clear, Specific, goal of what I want accomplished by the end of the week. The next step is to divide up this project into smaller, Measurable, tasks that can be accomplished throughout the week:

  1. An interface needs to be designed
  2. The application needs to be coded
  3. The application needs to fully functional
  4. The application needs to be published

The next step is to formulate a plan on how I will achieve this. I am able to delegate 2-3 hours on this project on days I work, while the days I have off I can spend more time on the harder tasks. To make this Achievable, I have to schedule in what times are best suited to perform what tasks.

Now the only way to make this Realistic is if I define certain rules for myself to work on this task. During the time dedicated to the project I will be closing my e-mail, leaving my phone on silent, and only work on this task during the allocated tasks.

Break it down on a day-by-day basis, the Timeline would look something like this:

  • Day 1: Create project’s user interface
  • Day 2: Code the project to perform basic operations
  • Day 3: Add any additional features to the project
  • Day 4: Test and fix any bugs
  • Day 5: Finalize and publish

Writing this SMART goal took less than 2-3 minutes to complete. This task is now delegated from one huge project to much smaller, manageable, tasks that I can complete throughout the week. It also gives me a better idea of what I should be focusing on doing the day and what other items should be handled later.

Which leads me to the final component for building a To-Do List

Your To-Do List Should Be Flexible

One of the last, but most important parts of your To-Do list is that it needs to have room for flexibility. There are going to be days where something pops up and you can’t accomplish your To-Do list as expected. This doesn’t mean you should completely stop yourself from working towards your goals, instead that task should be revised to a fit a more realistic goal for the week.

A fundamental thing to keep in mind is that designing effective SMART Goals is not something that can be done once per week. SMART Goals should be created, then reviewed and updated daily.

This is because new To-Dos will always be popping up throughout the week and it is impossible to gauge your priorities days in advanced. I would personally recommend having two to-do lists. One that has your weekly SMART Goals, and one that has your every day goals.

Each day, before writing your daily To-Do list, spend some time thinking about what you need to accomplish for the day. Analyze how you plan on approaching each tasks. Richard Plepler, HBO’s CEO, does something similar to this by doing non-religious prayer 15 minutes a day. I personally spend 5 minutes a day meditating to go through what I need to do throughout the day.

Regardless of what mental exercise you plan on doing, remember to keep your SMART Goals in mind when creating your list.

Conclusion

I hope that this entry helped anyone who is struggling with their every day tasks.I know since changing how I do my To-Dos I have started seeing a noticeable increase in finishing my Challenge List goals.

Just to leave off, you do not have to do your To-Do lists in this exact format. Some people have different ways they approach tasks and that is perfectly fine.The important thing is to experiment with how to create To-Do list and see what works for you. For me, SMART goals have been a tremendous help to increase my productivity, for others, this may not be the case.

Whatever the case, just remember your To-Do list is not just how many items you cross off, but what you improve on when you do it. Stay strong, and keep pushing forward.

Don’t Be Busy, Be Productive

A few months ago I fell into a routine that many busy people unknowingly fall into. My schedule was filled to the brim with things to do, but I felt like there was very little progress towards achieving my goals. Despite being constantly busy, I was barely accomplishing anything.

It became a routine to wake up early in the morning, write up a to-do list, go to work, attend classes, study, blog, manage club activities, workout, develop my personal projects…UGH! It was stressing enough trying to all of these things each day. It only added to the stress when I would finish the end of the day with only half of my To-Dos accomplished.

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Instead of continuing to pull my hair out trying to manage everything I decided to take a day to sit down and think why I wasn’t getting things done. After some thought I realized my problem wasn’t due to procrastination or poor time management, rather it came down to one simple mistake I made when I changed the way I  did To-Do Lists.

To fully analyze what happened we will need to take a trip back to a year ago where I first learned of a tale about Warren Buffet.

The Warren Buffet Story

For those unfamiliar with Warren Buffet, you just need to know that he is ranked as one of the most successful businessmen in the world.  Among other things, Warren Buffet is also known for a famous tale involving him and his pilot, Mike Flint.

BUFFETT CREDIT

 

One day, Buffet and Flint were having a conversation about career priorities. Flint, in admiration of Buffet, asked him how he can be as successful as him. Buffet told Flint to do this simple exercise:

Step 1: Take out a sheet of paper and write down the top 25 goals in your life.

Step 2: Review the list then circle the 5 goals that matter the most to you. This was now known as List A. The other 20 goals will be known as List B.

When Flint completed this exercise he essentially had two lists. When Buffet asked Flint what he felt these lists meant Flint told him that List A was the list of things he should focus on doing immediately while List B contained the things that weren’t as important to do, but can be done intermittently.

Buffet told him, “No, you’ve got it wrong, Mike. Everything you didn’t circle just became your Avoid-At-All-Cost list. No matter what, these things get no attention from you until you’ve succeeded with your top 5.”

Joining The Now Movement

Shortly after reading this story I learned of this movement from College Info Geek blogger, Thomas Frank.

This exercise was dubbed as the Now Movement, an idea conceptualized by David Sevirs. David is a widely successful musician who founded the company, CD Baby. David tweeted a page on his website titled What I’m Doing Right Now. Essentially, his page would inform others what his main priorities are currently and if any new opportunities that do not relate to the list come up, he ignores them.

When I first read about this on Thomas’ Franks page, I thought the idea was fascinating. Although, what really motivated me to make my own Now List was Thomas’s suggestion to make one simple modification.

“I am open to considering new opportunities, as I highly value novelty, spontaneity, and growth. However, I aspire to stick to my priorities 90% of the time. As a result, I will say no to the majority of requests that come my way now.”

The reasoning behind this made sense. David is already well into his career and has a large list of achievements to his name. Thomas feels he is still starting out in his career so to outright deny opportunities for growth may not lead him down his most ideal path.

Still being a college student, I too feel like I can’t completely remove myself from opportunities, so having a list more like Thomas’ makes a lot more sense.

Doing The Now List Wrong

Shortly after I read Thomas’ article I created my own Now List. However, when I made my Now List I ended up neglecting 4 important things that led to several months of sleepless nights and overbearing stress. When you are making your Now List I would recommend keeping these important points in mind:

Keep Your Now List Specific

A rule for almost all To-Do list making guides is to specify your goals. Making a list without a clear goal can make you take on your tasks with the wrong approach. By putting down what exactly you want to accomplish in the end you are drawing up a map of where Point A is and where Point B will take you.

When I first made my Now list I put down some really general goals like Save money. However, having a goal this general didn’t really give me a baseline I needed to reach. This would cause me to just put in the absolute minimum towards my goal.

It made no difference if I saved $1 or $100, I felt like both amounts accomplished my goal just the same. This unsurprisingly meant I was barely saving any significant amount of money at all. So instead I put down a clearer goal on there, Put 20% of my paycheck into my Savings Account each pay period. After a few months I found that I now had a steady amount of money going into my Savings.

Put a Deadline On Your To-Do’s

In addition to having clear goals you also want to have a specific deadline on when you need to reach each goal. Not having a deadline only creates the excuse to put it off because it feels like there is an eternity to do it. That finish line is never reached because it was never created.

When you are able to figure out deadlines you have a much better idea of which ones take priority over the other. This allows you to fully focus on your task so you can produce the best result. Then when that deadline passes you are able to move onto that next task with complete focus.

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One example I would give is when I had two tasks to accomplish in the same month: turning in a scholarship essay and submitting a final project. After determining the deadline for each item I was able to figure out which one needed my absolute focus first. Once one deadline passed my focus was able to shift towards another task.

In the end not only was I able to complete both of these tasks before the deadline, but by prioritizing which ones needed to be done first I was able to focus 100% on each of them. This resulted in me getting in A on the project and winning the award money for the scholarship.

Do Not Make It An Everyday List

In Chis Bailey’s book, The Productivity Project he talks about an experiment where he would work 90 hours for one week then the next week work for only 20 hours. In his experiment, Bailey found that while there was a massive difference in the time he was doing the work, there was very little difference in productivity.  This is defined as Parkison’s Law, where work will expand or shrink to fill the time available for its completion.

When I initially made the Now List I went at it with the mindset that if did a little work on each item every day I will have a lot accomplished in all my tasks by the end of the month. Boy, was that dumb.

Instead of being productive I ended up spending 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, getting very little accomplished. This was because each day I would write up a list of twenty tasks then give myself little intervals on how long I was allowed to work on each one of them. Instead of it motivating me to finish the tasks faster I ended up having to stop just when I hit the point where I was at my optimal focus, otherwise known as the flow state.

As Scott Dinsmore states in 11 Steps to Insane Focus, it’s more beneficial to work on a small number of tasks instead of a large amount throughout the day. If you are constantly switching between tasks you will quickly find that it will have little long term effect towards achieving the most for your goals.

Work Towards Your Stretch Goals

If you take a gander at my Impossible List you’ll notice I have about a million things I want to get accomplished in my lifetime. If I want to cross off any of these things I need to spend some time each day working towards them.

When creating a Now List you are creating a list of what is most important to you right now. Odds are the most important things to you now are not going to be the most important to you 5 years from now.

What this comes down to is that when you create your Now List you need to be considerate of your long term goals. Take a careful look at each item on your Now List and ask yourself “How will this help me reach my stretch goals”. If you can’t think of a reason then think about whether it truly needs to be focused on.

Be Smart, Not Busy

About a few months of doing the Now List (wrongly), I found that while I was being busy I was not being productive. As Charles Duhigg discusses in Faster, Better, Smarter:  there are two kinds people who make To-Do lists. Those who are busy and those who are productive.

He argues that those who do create lists find that they are getting a lot of their To-Do’s crossed off, but they progress very little from when they first made the list.

The reason for this is because those busy people are not creating their To-Do lists intelligently. If you want to create a To-Do list you need to state the reasons for doing each tasks. When you have a better idea of why you want to do each task it becomes that much easier to realize which ones take precedence.

One way to do this is to create SMART goals. SMART goals are a very proactive way to approach your tasks as they give each item a reason, are detailed, and have a timeline for doing them. There is a lot I can write about when it comes to creating SMART goals. In fact, I had a whole section on SMART goals written up that I realized would be better suited as it’s own topic for my next post.

For now, if you want to create SMART goals remember to keep these things in mind: keep the list specific, give each item a reason, and make sure they work towards your stretch goals. Doing these simple things can make all the difference from creating a busy To-Do List to creating a productive one.