Effective productivity tools for college students and young entrepreneurs
Imagine that you are given $86,400 every day. At the end of the day, all the money you have left goes to zero. There is only one rule: you cannot save money. What would you do? Well, the only viable option would be to spend it, and hopefully you spend it well.
Of course, you are not given $86,400 every day, but you are given 86400 seconds. If you have the time to spend, the only question is how well do you spend it? The way you spend your time is the way you spend your life. LinkedIn Founder Reid Hoffman suggests that review your calendar, journals, and old emails to get a sense for how you spent your last six Saturdays. What do you do when you have nothing urgent to do? How you spend your free time may reveal your true interests and aspirations; compare them to what you say your aspirations are. If your schedule doesn’t reflect on your values and priorities, it’s a good time to adjust and refocus.
“My favorite things in life don’t cost any money. It’s really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time.”
— Steve Jobs
“People are frugal in guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time, they are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy.”
Based on my observations, most people, including myself, do not treat time with proper respect. Seneca continued, “You live as if you were destined to live forever, no thought of your frailty ever enters your head, of how much time has already gone by you take no heed. You squander time as if you drew from a full and abundant supply, though all the while that day which you bestow on some person or thing is perhaps your last.”
The first and most important step to time management? Start to treat time as your most precious resource, which it is.
When I interviewed Seth Goldman, the co-founder of Honest Tea, he also emphasized time management as an important skill for students to learn. Being an entrepreneur will require people to handle many things at the same time, and college is a great practice ground for that. When Seth was in college, he was on the track team, a political organization, and running his own projects. He took on a lot of things, and he believes it was beneficial because he learned how to juggle and manage multiple things at one time.
We are not going to cover more traditional time management tips here to help you fill every minute of your day and cross off more “to dos.” Why? Have you had the experience of working for 12 hours and crossing off 10 to 20 to-dos things on your list, but at the end of the day still feel unfulfilled? I bet the answer is yes, and this is precisely what we are trying to avoid.
My view of time management and being busy was shifted by Derek Sivers, a successful and low-key entrepreneur and investor, who said, “Every time people contact me, they say, ‘Look, I know you must be incredibly busy’ and I always think, ‘No, I’m not.’ Because I’m in control of my time. I’m on top of it. Busy to me, seems to imply out of control. Like, ‘Oh my God, I’m so busy. I don’t have any time for this shit!’ To me, that sounds like a person who’s got no control over their life.”
Tim Ferriss, a famous author, entrepreneur, and productivity expert agrees. Tim has famously said that, “Lack of time is actually lack of priorities.” If I’m “busy,” it is because I’ve made choices that put me in that position, so I’ve forbidden myself to reply to “How are you?” with “Busy.” I have no right to complain.
Stop thinking about “What do I need to do?” RPM is a system developed by Tony Robbins after he went through most of the popular time management systems and found that they did not deliver on their promise. Many people I know agree with me that RPM is one of the best tools we know and use.
The first step toward taking back your focus and achieving the realization of your vision is to ask yourself three questions in a specific sequence on a consistent basis, the RPM system. Here is a more comprehensive handbook on RPM for people who are interested. I extracted the key information from the handbook and put it into this article.
Although RPM stands for the Rapid Planning Method, you can also think of it as a Results-oriented/Purpose-driven/Massive Action Plan. The sequence is critical because if you don’t know what you want, why you want it, and then create a plan for how to get to it, in that order, you are significantly less likely to accomplish your plans.
● Result: Before you can answer the question, “What am I going to do?” you’ve got to first ask the question, “What do I want?” That shift in focus will change completely how you respond in your life. It will change your focus from everyone else’s demands for your attention, or what you’re afraid of, or what might give you pleasure in the moment, to what’s most important to you.
● Purpose: The fuel behind getting there is having a compelling purpose and a reason that will move you. This fuel is the thing that will carry you through hard times without giving up. What are my reasons? Why is this not just a “should,” but a must for me? The emotional quality of purpose makes what you will do not only sustainable, but powerful.
● Massive action plan: Now it is time to create your action plan and make things happen. One useful tool is chunking. It is overwhelming to have 20 things on your to-do list. Look at your list and chunk similar activities into fewer categories (or outcomes) to help the brain process. For example, homework, office hours, and group projects can be chunked as school work. Cook dinner, workout, and grocery shopping can be chunked as physical health. In addition, once you create your list of actions, it is helpful to schedule the items into your calendar.3
The One Thing Method
Another helpful tool I discovered is the “One Thing Method” by productivity expert Tim Ferriss. Tim detailed how he uses this tool in this book Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers, and below is an exerpt from this book.
“Personally,” Tim said, “I suck at efficiency (doing things quickly). To compensate and cope, here’s my process for maximizing efficacy (doing the right things to produce a desired or intended result).” (Note that I’ve simplified this process for you ):
- Wake up at least one hour before you have to be on a computer screen. Email is a mind-killer.
- Write down 3 or 5 things — and no more — that are making you the most anxious or uncomfortable. They’re often things that have been punted from one day’s to-do list to the next, to the next, and so on. “Most important” usually equals “most uncomfortable,” with some chance of rejection or conflict.
- For each item, ask yourself the following questions:
- “If this were the only thing I accomplished today, would I be satisfied with my day?”
- “Will moving this forward make all the other to-dos unimportant or easier to knock off later?”
- “What, if this is done, will it make all of the rest of my list easier or irrelevant?”
- Then focus only on the items you’ve answered “yes” to — for at least one of these questions.
- Block out at least two hours to focus on ONE of those items today. Let the rest of the urgent, but less important stuff slide. It will still be there tomorrow. TO BE CLEAR: this is ONE BLOCK OF TIME. Cobbling together 10 minutes here and there to add up to 120 minutes does not work. No phone calls or social media allowed.
- If you get distracted or start procrastinating, don’t freak out and downward-spiral; just gently come back to your ONE to-do.3
Congratulations! That’s it. This is the only way I can create big outcomes despite my never-ending impulse to procrastinate, nap, and otherwise fritter away days with bullshit. If I have ten important things to do in a day, it’s 100% certain nothing important will get done that day. On the other hand, I can usually handle one must-do item and block out my less effective behaviors for two hours a day. It doesn’t take much to seem superhuman and appear “successful” to nearly everyone around you. In fact, you just need one rule: What you do is more important than how you do it.”