Review: The 4-Hour Workweek By Tim Ferris

When you search for “Self-help books”, the 4-Hour Workweek is usually one of the first results that pops up. With a message like, “Become rich while only spending 4 hours a week working“, it’s unsurprising why so many people find this book so eye catching.

It definitely caught my interest, in with recommendations from productivity bloggers such as Thomas Frank and Steven Kamb, I was convinced enough to pick this up and give it a read.

I found that this book had some very significant insight that got me thinking more critically about lifestyle design– the idea of pursuing the life we want instead of just graduating and getting a job. Although it’s evident that the author, Tim Ferris, doesn’t literally spend just 4-Hours a week working , Ferris still provides some meaningful ideas on how to reduce the workflow in favor of achieving more efficient results.

The unique approach from this book seems pretty unusual, but still very effective. Because of this, I decided to make The 4-Hour Workweek as this month’s pick for my monthly productivity book review series. In this review 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?

The 4-Hour Workweek is a self-help book written by entrepreneur and public speaker, Tim Ferris. The book’s content is a collection of ideas developed after Ferris took a sabbatical to Europe and created the goal to dramatically reduce his workload and create more free time.

Ferris talks about methods that have been the most effective for him to achieve his goal and goes into detail about how and why his methods have worked. In addition to discussion “fat-trimming” workload methods, The 4-hour Workweek has tips on becoming an entrepreneur.

Who’s The Author?

Tim Ferris is a rather controversial figure in the productivity community. Ferris has established himself a business man who likes to cut corners to achieve results.

He illustrates this early on in the book through a story about how he became a National Chinese Kick Boxing champion. Ferris utilized loopholes in the tournament’s rules to gain the advantage in competitions. This allowed him to rely on tactics such as repeatedly shoving opponents out of a ring to disqualify them and do weight cutting, a practice where a fighter will dramatically dehydrate themselves prior to a weigh in then re-hydrate themselves before the fight in order to compete several weight classes below their actual weight.

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During his employment as a salesman, Ferris founded the supplement company known as BrainQUICKEN. He later sold the company to a private equity firm then used his experiences to write The 4-Hour Workweek.

In addition being the author of The 4-Hour Workweek, Ferris has also wrote several other books such as: The 4-Hour Chef, The 4-hour Body, and Tool of Titans. Ferris has also pursued a number of other projects such as producing a podcast known as The Tim Ferris Show, and creating a 13-episode television series titled The Tim Ferris Experiment.

The Juicy Content

Right at the start of the book Tim Ferris gives the reader a clear idea of who is book is for and what it sets out to do. Ferris assumes that if you picked up this book than there’s a strong likelihood you’re seeking to reinvent yourself and avoid working the rest of your life at a 9-5 desk job. He understands that not everything mentioned in the book can and should be followed to a tee as everyone’s lives are not the same.

Because of this, Tim Ferris tells us what the book is not about. First, the book is not going to focus on the problem and assume that, as a reader, you are either suffering from time dread or are working a non fulfilling job. Second, this book is not about saving money through cutting back on commodities you enjoy now in favor of being rich 50 years from now. As Ferris states:

“I won’t ask you to choose between enjoyment today or money later. I believe you can have both now. the goal is fun and profit”.

Lastly, Ferris states this book is not set out to help you find your dream job. In actuality, the majority of people are never going to be working careers they feel endlessly fulfilled in. So instead, the focus of this book is to establish ways to free up time and automate income.

The rest of the book is divided up into sections which goes through the step-by-step process known as DEAL.

D is for Definition – This section is used to help readers find clarity on what the most important goals in their life are. Ferris accomplish this through a series of exercises such as spending 5-minutes defining your dreams. Once that is completed, Ferris then walks you through another exercise by imaging the worst-case scenario if you dropped everything right now to follow those dreams.

The goal of these exercises are to establish how important your dreams are and give clarity on the risks involved. Once these are made clear, Ferris provides tangible steps on how to work your way to achieving these goals while minimizing the risks involved.

E is for Elimination – The second section is where the heart of The 4-Hour Workweek lies. Ferris states that the most effective way to reach your goals would be to cut out the mundane tasks in your life. He offers up quite a number of solutions that can be used to accomplish this by doing things like: Eliminate multitasking, decrease e-mail consumption, create strict deadlines, and more.

The Elimination section follows suit with the 80/20 rule. Ferris argues that it’s not really how much time you work, rather how that time is spent doing it. To get the most out of this section, Ferris offers a number of tools and exercises that can utilized to apply these concepts into your workflow.

A is for Automation – I personally found the Automation section to be most difficult section to make applicable. This section of the book is focused on creating automated income. This means spending time creating a product that will put money in your pocket when you’re not working.

However, it’s not enough to create a sell-able product, but how to sell it. Ferris offers up a number of different methods that essentially boils down to finding a middle man and exclusive distribution. The middle man will be the individual who burdens the majority of the tedious work so you can sell your product with little effort. Exclusive distribution involves finding a distributor and limiting your product to being sold exclusively through them.

There are a lot of concepts touched upon in this book on how to become fully automated, but it may not feign interests to those not wanting to follow the entrepreneur lifestyle.

L is for Liberation – The fourth and final section ties in the first three sections together to lead to the core subject of the book. The first important step to achieving a reduced workload is to make your job work by your own terms. The most efficient way to do this would be by making your job remote.

Not only does this set where and when you work, but it also establishes a means to produce results with far less time you are required to do at a desk-job. Ferris does make the point that not all of us are fortunate enough to work a job that allows us to work remotely so easily. To help, he provides a number of examples and processes that can be used to transition a desk job to a remote job. This includes doing things like producing higher results in your work doing vacation and sick time, and gradually requesting more time off to work at home.

Who Should Read This?

This book is not really something everyone can pick up and benefit from. As Tim Ferris has said, he assumes those reading this book are ones who do not like the idea of working at an unfulfilling desk job. Because of this, The 4-Hour Workweek appeals more towards very specific individuals

The example that really illustrates who this is for is in his worst-case scenario exercise. If you did lose your job right now and the worst-case scenario is just that you’ll be unemployed for a while and need to rely on your savings for a bit, then this book will be a good fit for you.

However, if this is not the case for you, then a lot of its material will most likely not be beneficial for you.

Final Thoughts?

When I picked up this book I was really skeptical about it. I admit, though, Tim Ferris does have a lot of good ideas to help make work a lot more efficient, effective, and satisfying.

If it’s one complaint I have, it’s that this book is very heavily targeted towards a certain group of people. Depending on how much you do match up with the group of people this book is for will have an impact on how what percentage of the book would actually be useful to you. Although, whatever percentage that may be , it’ll still likely have enough interesting information to make your work more liberating and productive.

While I found some of the sections were not applicable towards me,  I did end up taking a lot of very important ideas from the ones that were in order to increase my work flow. One of which is decreasing my e-mail consumption, which I found did take up a lot more time and attention than I realized.

Even though this is not a book I can recommend for everyone, it is a book I would recommend to anyone interested in Tim Ferris’ unique approach to work. I would suggest to anyone who does plan on reading this book to remember to pick and choose from the material. Not all the material will appeal to everyone, and a some of the material presented should ideally be taken with a grain of salt.

To learn more about Tim and his book you can check out his website, fourhourworkweek.com or get your own copy of The 4-Hour Workweek.

Make Stress Work For You

The first martial arts class swords class I’ve ever went to I ended up being the slowest one in the class.

I thought this was just because I was new, but after a few classes went by I found that my speed was still an issue. Then one day, while we practiced defenses, my instructor came up to me, grabbed my shoulder and told me:

“You gotta relax. You will be a lot smoother if you weren’t so tense. “

To my surprise, I was tensing up my body every time I grabbed my sword. Once I became aware of this I took a deep breath and relaxed. Immediately after relaxing I found that my strikes and blocks occurred much faster and with a lot more ease.

When I realized I was unknowingly feeling tense I started to wonder where else this was happening in my life. I ended up finding that I was tense when doing a lot of other activities, including the very basic day-to-day tasks in my life.

The problem was, I was so use to feeling tense I just considered it normal. Once I started to recognize these feelings of stress I was able to combat it and increase my work flow. This ended up leading me to researching and learning a lot about how about I can use stress to make myself get work done more efficiently.

Recognizing Stress

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There are two kinds of stress(Actually three, but the third is less common than the other two): Acute Stress and Chronic Stress.

Acute Stress is that short term stress you have when reacting  to an immediate threat or an event that heightens a strong emotional response.  While Chronic stress is the long term stress that occurs when responding to emotional pressure(s) for a long period of time.

While acute stress can help stimulate that exhilarating feeling you get from riding a roller coaster or skiing down a slope, chronic stress is the far less fun one that can cause severe physical and mental strain. Along with anxiety, irritability, and depression, chronic stress has also been known to weaken the immune system and cause permanent brain damage.

Despite the dangers of chronic stress, a lot of people tend to not recognize they are suffering from it. There are very notable symptoms to help identify the feelings of chronic stress, but the one I found to be most effective is body scanning.

Body scanning is not only a very effective way to identify if you’re feeling stressed, but also a great way to help relax the areas of the body that are tense. The process can even take as little as 10-15 minutes to do.

To start off, find a comfortable position and take a few deep breathes. Once you’re feeling comfortable and cleared your mind, it’s time to start the body scanning process. Start by focusing on your feet, noting the sensations felt in this position. Identify if there is any tenseness present. If so, take a few deep breaths and relax them. Then, slowly work your way up, doing this same process one body part at a time, until you have fulled relaxed all parts of your body.

Once you finished relaxing your body, take a few deep breaths and open your eyes. Take a couple more deep breaths and slowly come out of your seated position before resuming normal activities.

Control Your Stress

Body scanning isn’t the only way to combat chronic stress. Studies have found that the most effective ways to overcome chronic stress is through regular exercise and meditation.

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What these two solutions have in common is that they practice mindfulness. One of the biggest causes for chronic stress is worrying too much about problems out of your control. Instead of constantly thinking about the tasks in the future it’s important to be mindful about the tasks currently in front of you. By letting your mind wander away from the present activity you are allowing yourself to be distracted.

This causes, what Cal Newport describes in his book, Deep Work, as attention residue:

“People experiencing attention resident after switching tasks are likely to demonstrate poor performance on that task, and the more intense the reside the worse the performance.”

One of the best way to practice mindfulness is to take up hobbies that require you to be in this state of mind. This can include getting involved activities such as martial arts, yoga, or creative arts. Just doing some sort of activity that brings you in that meditative state and focus on the the task at hand. By being more mindful with our tasks we reduce that feeling of anxiety for any future tasks.

Finally, another extremely effective way to combat stress is by organizing and planning. Scheduling when you allow yourself to work, take breaks, and practice mindfulness helps organize your thoughts and give you a much less cluttered mind. This not only gives you a better feeling of control in your life, but it also provides a way to effectively track your tasks and stick your your To-Dos.

Make Stress Work For You

Stress can definitely be a helpful way to keep you on task, but it can also be a hindrance for getting the most work done. What really helps make stress beneficial is to not perceive stress as negative. In fact, by perceiving stress as a challenge for getting things done you can gain very positive health benefits from it.

When dealing with stress it’s important not to let it get out of control. By keeping your tasks organized and balancing your work and leisure you can keep stress in check. Doing so will help prevent you from worrying about stressing overwhelm you and instead use it as a strategy to be more productive.

 

Review: If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy?

When I first picked up If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy? I was at a very stressful point in my life. I was in the midst of finishing up a contracted job that sent my life-work balance out of a loop.

I was feeling overworked, I felt unmotivated to do anything, and each day I was waking up with anxiety. I wouldn’t say I was miserable with my current situation, but I definitely wasn’t happy with it either.

I spent a good week taking a break from my routine and sitting down to read this book. Just a few short chapters in my eyes opened up to seeing a whole new perspective on life. When I finished reading I started really questioning if where I was going in life was really leading me down the road to happiness. After taking in the book’s material, and spending several months practicing its teachings, I can confidently say that I am happier than ever.

Every day has been a new day for progress, and I find myself making smarter decisions that lead me to a life of productivity and happiness. This is why I’m choosing If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy? as this month’s pick for my monthly productivity book review series. In this review 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?

If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy is by author, Raj Raghunathan. Raj talks about how he has been studying successful people for many years while tracking their levels of self-esteem.

After years of collecting data, Raj found that as people get older and more successful, their self-esteem levels decrease. This results in a lot of people who’ve gained visible achievements(i.e. Promotions, nice houses, raises, etc;) feeling less fulfilled.

This lead Raj to trying to find the answer to the age-old question: Why are smarter and more successful people often less happy?

Who’s The Author?

Raj has a very rich background in education. After graduating from the Birla Institute of Technology and Science he went on to obtain his PhD in the Stern School of Business in New York.

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Raj later went on to teach higher learning where he currently is a Marketing professor at University of Texas, McCombs school of Business. Along with teaching business related courses Raj also teaches a course that expands on the material covered in this book. He Also offers all his course material for free, online, at Coursera.

Raj covers a broad category of fields to support his findings, some of which include: Behavior economics, neurosciences, behavior psychology, and more.

The Juicy Content

While the book has 17 has chapters total, 14 of these chapters are separated in their own unique habit-sin paired sections. Raj starts off each section with a deadly happiness sin. A happiness sin is essentially a widely believed concept that most of society believes leads to a happier life. Such sins include: Striving to be the best at something, chasing after love, and pursing activities leading to short-term happiness.

Each happiness sin is debunked by Raj using detailed scientific evidence on why the widely believed idea just doesn’t work.

One of these happiness sins, for example, is the idea of becoming superior at a skill. Whether you are dreaming to become the world’s best guitarist, a famous celebrity, or wealthy beyond belief; the biggest mistake people make is that they never have a clear idea of where the end point lies. Raj states:

“It’s not difficult-if not impossible- to come up with objective yardsticks for assessing one’s standing relative to others in almost any domain.”

He explains that these ‘proxy’ yard sticks we create are far too ambiguously defined to be used as a measurement for success. Since we are trying to be superior without a clear sense of what that means, a lot of us never achieve that idea of superiority.

Instead, Raj Suggest that we forgo the idea of superiority and pursue what is known as Flow. For those of you unfamiliar with flow, let’s go over a brief explanation of what flow is.

The Flow State, or “Flow”, was a concept theorized by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Mihaly defines Flow as a state of mind where you’re completely fixated at a task present to you. You may have experienced something similar to this before, like working on a project and losing track of time in which several hours passes by you in a much shorter amount of time. This, in general, is the idea of flow.

Raj breaks this down by stating there are three requirements for getting into flow:

  1. Find where your talents lie
  2. Figure out how your talent can benefit others
  3. Enjoy doing them

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The book delves more into the concept of flow as well as how you can get started with it, but for now we’ll move on to Raj’s main point for flow.

In Raj’s explanation of flow he touches upon how it’s ideal to find a job that can best lead you to this flow state consistently. A lot of people who realize they are not pursuing their idea pathways may be tempted to quit their jobs to pursue their passions. However, Raj argues that this is not the ideal path to go down. He explains that people often quit their jobs to pursue these ambitions will often lead to less happier lives.

Instead, Raj suggests to go at these ambitions slowly and organically. An example of what this means is say you want to own a scuba diving equipment store. Instead of immediately leaving your job and taking out a bank loan to open a shop, it would be better to follow this passion at a more gradual pace.

This can be done by volunteering somewhere that already rents out scuba diving equipment and work there an average of 4 hours a week. Not only will this give you a better idea of how the business works and earn both skills and familiarity with running a shop, but it also does not force you take on a risky investment. If you find out that owning a scuba diving rental shop is not your passion you have the opportunity to back out with no consequences.

Without giving too much of the book away, If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy? breaks down these happiness-sins in a similar fashion. Other ideas Raj discusses are:

  • Not feeling needy and valuing relationships
  • How to handle things that are out of your control
  • Why you should pursue your passion dispassionately
  • and more

All of these ideas are backed with various studies, personal examples from the author, and evidence from professionals in their respected fields.

Who Should Read This?

I personally feel that this a book that should be explored by everyone. A lot of what Raj touches upon are widely held beliefs most of society regards as true paths to happiness. However, these ideas tend to lead us down an unfulfilled path many people fall victim to.

Since reading this book I found that it has transformed my views on life. Whenever I do feel bummed out I am able to trace it back to one of the 7 Deadly Happiness Sins and quickly transform my disappointment into a state of mind that leads to productivity and happiness.

Final Thoughts?

Raj does an excellent job compacting a lot of research down to a 300 page, easy-to-read, book. Despite how foreign many of these fields were to me, Raj succeeds in explaining these concepts down to a simplistic manner.

This book is backed with very illustrated examples and well-documented studies to support Raj’s claims. I ended up learning a lot from this book and have to say that, after putting what I learned into practice for several months, I’ve noticed my life feels a lot more fulfilling.

To learn more about Raj and book you can visit Raj at his website, happysmarts.com or get your own copy of If You’re Smart Why Aren’t You Happy.

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.

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.