Chapter 10. Productivity and Self-Development
This chapter discusses a few miscellaneous topics that didn’t fit into the other chapters of the book. The central themes are productivity and self-development.
Building habits and being more productive with the “Grid System”
A lot of people wish that they could be more productive with their time. I developed a strategy for managing my time that I found to be extremely helpful to me. I refer to it to as my “Grid System”.
The Grid System is a To Do List designed to help develop a daily routine. The list of items are in the order that I want to do them. But the clever part is that the list repeats every day. That way I build a routine.
I use a piece of graphing paper as my Grid table. Each row is a day and each column is a task that I would like to get done every day.
Example list of Grid Activities: Make bed, Eat breakfast, Tidy up, Brush teeth, Workout, Shower, Work/Writing, Lunch, Journal writing, Respond to emails, Chore #1, Chore #2, Chore #3, Cleaning, Reading/Learning, Programming, Dinner, Activity for fun, Brush teeth, go to bed.
Included in the routine are spaces for miscellaneous chores. What I do for a chore changes each day and is determined by what needs to be done that day.
Remove any columns if you think that task isn’t really helping get your life where you want it to be. Otherwise you will use them to procrastinate against what’s more important.
Why the Grid System is effective
One advantage of the Grid System is that you always have exactly one thing to do: whatever is the next unchecked column. This is important for when you feel overwhelmed with too many things to do. You no longer waste time or energy thinking about what to do next.
You won’t feel as bad about having so many things to do because you’ll have made a little progress towards completing all of them. You can make a lot of progress in several different areas of your life if you do a little bit each day in all of them.
The Grid System is really great at building habits. Good habits allow you to be more productive. At first it will take a lot of time, energy, and willpower in order to do all of your Grid Activities. But after practicing for a couple weeks you will find you are able to do them all quickly and easily. Also, if you have a productive morning it will help you be more productive in the afternoon and evening.
No Zero Days
“No Zero Days” is a concept I first heard on Reddit (/r/NonZeroDay). It’s a concept that is useful for attempting to complete a goal or improve yourself in some way.
A “zero day” is a day in which you did absolutely zero work towards your goal. “No Zero Days” simply means that every single day you will at least do something that helps you get closer to your goal.
Some days you might even get a lot done. Even if what you do is a little bit, it’s much better than doing nothing. After enough days in a row of making progress you will have accumulated a lot of progress.
You can keep track of how many days in a row you make progress on your goal by marking each day with an X on a calendar. This motivates you on days when you could go to sleep rather than spending a few minutes making progress.
It’s similar to the Grid System, except that it focuses on one goal or aspect of your life you want to improve instead of several goals.
For example, when I’m writing this book I try to have No Zero Days of progress on the book. If I’m trying to get into better shape I try to have No Zero Days when it comes to exercise. When I’m trying to read a book, I try to make sure I read at least a little bit every day.
Wanting to do something is better motivation than thinking you have to do something
Imagine there is an important chore that you dread doing. You spend a lot of time thinking about. You feel like it is important, that you ought to do it, or that your life would be better if you did it.
Those are all really good reasons WHY you should do the chore. However, having to do something can actually be very demotivating. You might still dread the chore and procrastinate.
Instead, it would be more motivating if you thought of it as something you WANT to do. If you can successfully convince yourself that you want to do a chore, it stops being a chore and instead becomes enjoyable. It is more motivating to have the opportunity to do something enjoyable than important.
Making a to-do list can be very demotivating because it feels like a list of things you have to do, even though you have other things you’d rather be doing that aren’t on the list. So instead make a “Want-to-do list”. Write down reasons why you want to do the things on your To Do List or Grid.
The importance of good organization and good note-taking
Being organized can help you to be successful. So can great note-taking. To keep notes, I currently use both a notebook and a software program.
To help keep papers organized, I have two boxes in my room. One is a box of my most important papers and things so I’ll know where to find them. The other is a box of my less important papers that I might want later.
I didn’t always have good organization or good note-taking. It’s a skill that I wish I had developed earlier. It’s also something I hope to improve on.
Project management systems
A project management system is how you organize your notes, plans, and details for a project. It’s very helpful for large projects. The project could be anything — something you’re doing at work or at home or at school. The management system can include software, notecards, or a notebook.
Write down the steps involved for the project. Then, for each step, write down what needs to be done, what you’ve done up to that point, and any other relevant notes.
Good note taking and planning will help you figure out exactly what needs to be done, how to do it, and how to prioritize it. Good organization will help you look up important information quickly.
The conveyor belt metaphor for the present moment
Imagine you are working on the assembly line at a factory. The factory is manufacturing widgets and your job is to put together two parts for each of the widgets. The conveyor belt brings you endless amounts of factory-produced parts. Your job is to pick up two parts at a time and put them together. After putting them together you can put the combined parts back on the conveyor belt.
When you’re focused on the present moment you are focused on picking up two parts, putting them together, and placing them back down on the conveyor belt. This is generally when you are happiest and doing the best work.
If you’re not focused on what you’re currently working on, you’re not focused on the present moment. You might be worrying about the future or worrying about how much work you still have to do. In the metaphor, this is like worrying about the widget parts on the conveyor belt that have not yet reached you. You can also worry about the past, the widget parts on the conveyor belt that have already passed you.
Looking back on my life so far, I wish I had been encouraged to write more. In particular, I wish I had spent more time writing non-fiction. It’s extremely fun.
It can also be helpful. I learn a lot whenever I write. The process of writing causes me, the author, to think of lots of questions that I hadn’t considered before. Sometimes I won’t be able to answer those questions by myself and I’ll have to spend time researching online.
I also learn from others when they give me feedback and comments about my writing.
Reading, learning, asking questions
There are so many things I haven’t learned yet and I hope to continue learning. There are lots of ways I could do it: through experience, through conversation, through reading, through watching videos, etc. I hope people continue to create great educational materials for adults.
I’m always finding new questions to ask. Sometimes it can be answered with a Google search or a conversation with a friend. But other times the answer is elusive.
Why do people not listen to advice?
If you give someone advice, they might not follow your advice.
This can be extremely frustrating for you (the person giving advice). You might feel rejected or disrespected. You might be so frustrated that you don’t give that person any more advice. You might feel like the person is making a big mistake if they don’t follow your advice.
Try not to get too frustrated. Instead, you should offer to help in some other way.
There are a couple of different reasons why someone might not follow your advice. They might disagree with you on the details of the situation. For example, they might disagree about what the goals are, what the obstacles are, what is possible, or what is the best option. The other person is probably acting rationally based on their understanding of the situation. Or maybe they are too emotionally attached to change.
Honor your calling
Your calling is what you dream of doing and achieving. Your calling could be a singular goal or be made up of many goals. For me, I feel like my calling contains many separate goals. When you are making steps towards achieving those goals you are honoring your calling.
Unfortunately, sometimes I felt like I was very far away from achieving my goals. If I was feeling really bad, it might seem like my goals were impossible.
Some people, like myself at times, are afraid to honor their calling. Accomplishing dreams and achieving goals can be scary and intimidating. It sometimes seems like following your heart is something that only a very few, very lucky people can do.
But I think I overestimated the difficulty of honoring my calling. Achieving your dreams isn’t as scary, risky, or lonely as it seems.
I sat down and tried to write out what my calling was. I was hoping to come up with a single item that was my calling. Instead, I realized my calling is a list of about a dozen different goals covering all the important aspects of my life.
For example, I wanted to have a career I loved, I wanted to have a girlfriend I loved, I wanted to have great relationships with my friends and family, I wanted to be happy with myself, etc. At that point, it still felt like I was impossibly far away achieving happiness.
The next step was to write how I could honor my calling. As it turns out, I was already doing a lot of things to honor my calling. The things I needed to do to further honor my calling didn’t even seem that hard.
Try doing what I did. Write out what your calling is. Then write out how you can honor it. It might make feel more hopeful about your future and more satisfied with your past.
Thank people for the things they do for you
Any time someone does something nice for you, thank them! This is a great habit that my friend encouraged me to try.
I always assumed I was a polite and gracious person. But when I started actively trying to thank people I found many new opportunities to say “Thank you” when I previously wouldn’t have said anything.
Motivation for when you’re not sure what to do: change the universe
If you’re not sure what you should do next in life, and you’re looking for something to do, start by noting what you’re most passionate about. If you’re not sure what you care most about, imagine, if you could do anything, what would you do? If you could talk about anything, what would you talk about? That’s the thing you care most about.
Next, come up with an idea for something you could achieve related to that passion. It might be writing an article, videotaping a lecture, hosting an annual event, starting a business or a charity.
Then bring your idea to life. Don’t procrastinate. If you want to do something, you might as well do it as soon as you can.
Whatever it is, do it well. Do it so well that people have to take notice. So good that it becomes important. So good that people want to talk about it and share it. So good that it gets covered by the news. So good that it becomes a top story in the news. So good that you get invited to talk about it on talk shows.
If you do something really great, people will want to make a movie about it. If your work is really important, the authors of history textbooks won’t be able to ignore what you did.
I’ve heard this called “making the universe move instead of waiting for the universe to move you.” Steve Jobs memorably said people should “put a dent in the universe.”
The universe might not make life easy for you. You might not have the job you want or know what you should do next. However, the universe always has positions available for more amazing people willing to do amazing work.
The reason I share this is because some people have never tried thinking this way before.
This advice works best when what you’re passionate about is something that can financially support the lifestyle you want. If following your passion doesn’t make enough money to keep you afloat — even when you’re doing amazing work — then you will need to find additional sources of income. Maybe bringing your dream to life won’t make you money, but you will feel good about it.
I’ve had many self-doubts. A self-doubt is when you think you are incapable of doing something that you think is important or you really want.
For example, I really wanted to be a happy person with a wonderful career, but I doubted that it was possible. Or maybe I really wanted to learn a skill but thought it was too difficult.
You can probably identify many self-doubts about yourself. Self-doubts are saddening when you think about them.
When someone else criticizes me about something that I myself have a self-doubt about, it stings painfully. They are poking an emotional wound and I might notice that I’m angry at them.
Once you’ve identified out all your self-doubts, start proving them wrong to yourself. You can’t reason away self-doubts, you need undeniable proof. It might be challenging, but when you prove a self-doubt wrong you free yourself of it and feel much better.
Regrets and things I’m ashamed of
I don’t have many major regrets. I try not to beat myself up for anything that happened in the past. Instead I tell myself that I didn’t know any better back then.
All the things I regret or am ashamed of generally fall into one of these three categories: 1) Being mean or rude to someone when I didn’t have to be, 2) Not being kind to someone when I had a great opportunity to be, 3) Not daring to live greatly.
What you do makes a difference
Be aware of the effect you have on the people and world around you. What you do makes a difference.
Some nihilist people might think that nothing really matters — that the universe will come to an end and that humans are insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
But what you do has an effect on the people around you and your community. No two people quite have the same effect and sometimes you can make decisions that matter. If you can get yourself to care about the effect you have, you can give life a lot of meaning.
Life is short.
Life is short. Wave ‘hello’ to every baby and every puppy you see. Wave ‘hello’ to as many people as you can without seeming crazy.