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How to Get Things Done Faster and Better That Will Ultimately Contribute to Your Success

When you learn to let go of things that do not work, you become a magnet of things that work.

Important things. Two words that make this post entirely different from other articles you’ve probably read. This post is not about getting more work done in less time.

Because let’s admit it.

A long to-do list doesn’t equate to a productive day. Many people have long to-do list and always choose to do the easiest things first because of the satisfaction they get from crossing something off their list.

If you look over your schedule right now, you’re probably overwhelmed with so many things to do. Each activity tries to steal your attention away from things that will actually contribute to your growth and success.

We were all made to believe that being productive means being able to do many work and check them as we go.

The results?

Yes, we are able to perform but the quality is not the best that we could give. We produce outputs just so they can get off our hands and we can move on to the next task.

In the corporate world, it’s a lot more challenging because you hardly own your time. A new paperwork continuously land on your desk and pile up every few hours. Even when you’re self-employed, you’ll see that there are a lot of things to be done and you barely scratch the surface each day.

To help you succeed on important things, the major premise I want to deliver is:

“Go small to achieve more.”

The aim is to avoid things that do not help your progress and devote quality time on those that will make your future brighter. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said:

“For everything you have missed, you have gained something else; and for everything you gain, you lose something else.”

Here are some ways how:

Spot and Nail the Vital Few of the Vital Few

Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist, observed that the income distribution in Italy shows that eighty percent of the land was owned by twenty percent of people. This principle was further explained by Robert Koch in his book 80/20 principle. It basically says that in the hundred percent of activities you do, only twenty percent actually contributes to your progress.

So why do you still do the other activities?

Few reasons may emerge:

  • You lack singularity. You’re not sure what you really want.
  • You are tempted with every shiny thing that comes out thinking it’s the missing ingredient for success.
  • You are constantly distracted. You are overwhelmed.

To help improve your results, Koch suggests focusing your attention and energy on activities that yield the best results. For those that do not contribute to your success, either drop them or minimize doing those.

If that sounds extremely challenging to you, authors Gary Keller and Jay Papasan went on to suggest a more extreme model in their best-selling book The One Thing. They call it Extreme Pareto Principle.

First, you should know and apply the original Pareto principle. Identify the goal and then engage in activities that target those goals. Now here comes the extreme part. As described by Gary Keller:

“Success requires that you follow the 80/20 Principle, but you don’t have to stop there. Go even smaller by finding the vital few of the vital few. Start with as large a list as you want, but develop the mindset that you will whittle your way from there to the critical few and not stop until you end with the essential one.”

His principle essentially works like this:

Extreme Pareto Principle from the book The One Thing

When your attention and focus are concentrated on that one impotant thing, you’ll improve your results. Your energy is not scattered but you improve mastery of your craft. You could put every bit of neurons to work for you.

To make it even more challenging and ensure great results, pair it with the principle shared by another best-selling author Cal Newport. Newport said it’s not enough to identify the most important thing. Delivery and execution are what matter most. To get the most out of what you’re doing, improve your intensity through deep work. Deep Work as Newport described is rare, creates new value, improves your skill and hard to replicate

Deep Work is about focusing on important activities in a state of distraction-free concentration where you push your capabilities. Most people cannot perform this deep work and so mastering this can give you an advantage to make your work stand out.

Carve a time in your day, week or month where you could immerse yourself on that important thing and allow no one to distract you. Once you’re in the zone, flow of ideas will be a lot easier and faster. Your mind is focused on one thing and determined to succeed on it.

The brain also favors this kind of concentration because they are able to fire relevant circuit together instead of in isolation. When the same neurons fire together, they become well-acquainted with each other. Thereby, improving the mastery of skill. As Donald Hebb has said, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.”

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Acknowledge the Part of You That You Try to Deny

You often read about knowing your “why” when you pursue goals. Once you know your “why”, the “how” will reveal itself. It’s true that you must have something bigger than yourself to keep you motivated.

But let’s be honest here.

As a social creature, we want to do things because of other factors too. We seek pleasure and reward. When we receive reward, we are more motivated to pursue our “why”. The selfish nature of us can help us become motivated to keep going.

If I ask you, why do you keep working on your goals right now?

Maybe you want to earn enough to support your family. Maybe you want to be free to use your time eventually. Maybe you want to be your own boss and spend more time with your loved ones.

These are all valid. If you are truly honest with yourself, you know there are hidden motives lurking behind them.

Authors Kevin Simler and Robin Hanson discussed these motives extensively in their book The Elephant in the Brain. This elephant, as they described it is “an important but unacknowledged feature of how our minds work.” It is the selfish part of our psyches that we try to hide from others because we think it looks ugly. We don’t want to look bad in front of others but unconsciously do it.

Some of these hidden motives as described by Simler and Hanson are carried out because:

  • We seek social status.
  • We seek alliance.
  • We want to impress others.
  • We want to show that we care.

In short, we want to show that we are desirable to attract potential allies that later on can be our partners in life, business or social gathering. As authors have said:

“Our brains are built to act in our self-interest while at the same time trying hard not to appear selfish in front of other people.”

If you are honest to yourself, look at that goal you want to pursue.

“Why” do you want to do it? — This is your bigger purpose and in most cases, it’s “others-centered.”

But let’s remove the mask now. It’s just between you and yourself.

What really is your hidden motive?

Is it to attract possible partner? Then, craft your strategy where you increase your potential of showing yourself on your target partner or audience.

Is it to impress others that you know your craft? Then, position yourself to learn skills way beyond what is expected.

Is it to increase your social status? Again, learn new skills, acquire more tools and wisdom necessary for the craft.

Instead of being embarrassed on your selfish motive, reveal it to yourself. But your senses will tell you that you must pursue it without hurting others. Leverage your motive to improve your strategy.

Every one around you have a big “why” in doing things they do. But they all have hidden motives within them. You think the marketers out there are offering their products or services simply for your own good? Heck no! They combine their motives and strategy to get a win-win situation.

I have my own motive in publishing stories. I want to help others succeed by sharing lessons I’ve learned along the way. But I also want to position myself as a credible writer so readers will trust me (possible allies). I align my strategies to serve those readers and my own motive. I devote time to research, read and synthesize information.

Be Willing to Be A Slave To Your Own Body

Most people try to master different things all at the same time thinking they are becoming effective. They try to add skill, another skill and another skill on top of the current skill they want to develop. Results are not as glamorous as they’ve thought.

But could you blame them?

It’s easy to fall for a new shiny thing giving us hope that it could be the secret ingredient that we’re looking for.

Many people are more talented and skillful than you. They have more resources than you have. In fact, they have greater advantage than you. But you can stand out and outwork them. You know they are scattered. You know they lack focus. You know they lack clarity. That’s where you come in.

If others are sleeping, that’s when you wake up and learn the game. If others are whining, that’s when you step up and train. If others are giving up, that’s when you press on and stick to the game. Discipline will be your greatest partner toward success.

The Apostle Paul articulated it well on 1 Corinthians 9:24–27:

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”

Training and mastery are like rowing.

To be a great oar, you’ll have to endure the harsh training. As described by Daniel Brown in a nonfiction story of The Boys in the Boat, you’ll come home with blistered and bleeding hands, aching back and throbbing legs. In fact, physiologists have calculated that rowing a two-thousand meter race takes the same physiological toll as playing two basketball games back-to-back.

No wonder many drop during the training. Thousands of people will also give up their own training. Not because they lack the capabilities. Many lack gristle and bone to deny themselves some comfort in order to master a certain skill.

Life is like training to be a great oar. In the words of Brown:

“Pain is part and parcel of the deal. It’s not a question of whether you will hurt, or how much you will hurt; it’s a question of what you will do, and how well you will do it while pain has her wanton way with you.”

Crush the Debilitating Side of Choices

If you go to a grocery store to get an ice cream, you’ll be overwhelmed with choices on which brand to choose. Unless you already know what to get.

It’s pretty daunting and overwhelming. Too much choices come with a harm. It paralyzes us to make a wise decision.

When it comes to developing a skill, most people give themselves too many choices. They want to improve in writing, marketing, painting, photography — name it — all at the same time. Those choices impair themselves to make quality decisions because their brain is overwhelmed with priorities.

Barry Schwartz, author of Paradox of Life said, “Based on studies, a large array of options may discourage consumers because it forces an increase in the effort that goes into making a decision. So consumers decide not to decide and then don’t buy the product.”

Similarly in life, when people are overwhelmed, they decide not to decide for fear of choosing the wrong one. I got into food blogging last year but found it very exhausting. Then I jumped into lifestyle blogging where I post different stuff from food, travel, photography, gardening and inspiration. It’s so overwhelming. Guess who reads? Hardly anyone.

I lack clarity. Nobody wants to learn from someone that is scattered. When I focused myself on one choice, I learned more about it. Readers felt that wisdom and they started to come in.

It all starts with one choice that you can master by heart and mind. You don’t need to overwhelm yourself with many choices by being jack-of-all-trades. You will indeed master nothing.

Choices are meant to confuse the heck out of you. They masquerade as appealing gems only to distract you from the right answer. To take the advice of Cal Newport, “Give yourself no other option. Learn the material and make sure that there is nothing to distract you. Some people show up not prepared. They can’t learn quickly.”

Get to the Core of The Things That Truly Work

If you’re thinking you’re becoming effective by trying to do more, look at your results.

Do they reflect the results you want?

Are you getting closer to your goals?

People who achieve extraordinary results make getting to the core of things the main ingredient of their approach. They target small things. And that small thing eventually compounds due to the attention and concentration they give to it.

You’ll have to trade the easy things and endure the harder that gives lasting results. You’ll have to trade some of your entertainment time to give way to your training.

If you give up the clutter that impedes your growth, you’ll eventually see the person you can become. It’s like having a wind-shield wipers that clear your vision. It all starts with one choice, one thing, one step and one day at a time.

Eventually, you’ll face someone in the mirror that you will always be proud of.


Thank you so much for reading.


This story is published in The Startup, Medium’s largest entrepreneurship publication followed by 325,521+ people.

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