Hello WehnerEd community and welcome to the Career Hacking Podcast in 2018
Now that the new year is upon us and many of us have set New Years goals and resolutions, I’d like to use this episode to talk through the productivity hacks that I use that can help you perform your best.
This episode is longer than usual and is jam-packed with tools that I have learned from the highest achievers and have distilled for you based on my own experiences. Take a moment right now to stop and think in your head:
What is your top goal for 2018? What outcome do you most want to achieve, and why is it important to you?
Regardless of how many goals you’ve set or how you want to improve yourself, these methods will help you achieve more and make 2018 your best year yet.
I’ll take a moment for a brief disclaimer. I am by no means a doctor or medical physician. The advice given here is based on my experiences. Your results will vary from mine. Take caution as appropriate and use your best judgment.
As many of you know, I’m a geek when it comes to optimizing my life.
- I run regularly to promote cardiovascular health and to improve my sleep – both are critical factors of living for a long time and helping me perform at the highest levels along the way. It doesn’t matter how fast you run, but 30+ minutes (at whatever pace is comfortable), a couple of times a week will work wonders.
- I lift weights to promote mental health, burn calories, stimulate my metabolism, improve my posture (since I spend too much of my days sitting), and to boost my confidence. No, I’m not talking about lifting weights every day to get you swole. I’m talking about a mixed routine across many muscle groups with weights a little bit heavier than your comfort level for 20-30 minutes 2-3 times per week
- When I’m running or biking my performance is directly tied to my playlist. Without music, my cardio workouts don’t feel nearly as productive. However, when I lift weights, music doesn’t impact me one bit. I might as well be listening to a finance podcast that puts me to sleep. Instead, I usually take the opportunity to multitask and listen to audiobooks or my queue of podcasts that I’m actually interested in. Experiment, and find the soundtrack or other motivations that work for you.
Sleep is one of the most important tools in my productivity arsenal. To improve my sleep,
- Moderating light in my surroundings is key.
- I brush and floss in the dark before bed to start the release of melatonin sooner. I also use apps on my phone, iPad, and computer to reduce the screen brightness and blue light levels.
- Studies show a direct correlation between the darkness of rooms and the quality of sleep. Humans are hard-wired to wake up when they sense light. Do all that you can to reduce the amount of light in your bedroom. I always have a sleeping mask on hand just in case.
- If you use blackout curtains, use a smart light bulb or find an alarm clock that produces light to help you wake up in the morning. Even for morning people like me, it’s a drag to wake up and greet the day in a dark room.
- Speaking of waking up. I’ve learned that starting the day with a full glass of water is curtail to hydrate your body to jumpstart your energy
- I also make sure not to eat anything within 3 hours of bedtime to reduce the amount of activity going on in my body while I’m preparing for rest.
- Finally, try to avoid doing other activities in bed besides sleep. If your brain associates your bed with watching TV, doing homework, or even reading stimulating books, then it’ll have a harder time shutting off when you’re ready to get some shut eye. Keep working at your desk, Netflix on the sofa, and sleeping in your bed.
- Oh, and am I the only one in the world who puts their phone on do not disturb mode while I sleep? I’ve never had a situation where my alerts and messages couldn’t wait until the morning, and I’ve had glorious uninterrupted sleep all the while.
Wow! And just like that, I’m already de-railed from the topic of this podcast: … getting back to Productivity hacks!
Just as I’ve researched and found ways to maximize my efforts in both fitness and sleeping, I also have distilled other’s productivity advice and found the optimal solution for me to stay focused and perform at my best. There’s no clear formula for everyone, but I encourage you to apply many of these tactics several times in your own life to see what clicks for you.
First and foremost before we get too deep into methods, step 1 is to always remove distractions. Set up your environment free of alerts, phone buzzes, pings, etc. Email is a huge part of this and my mind is much more clear now that I only check email 3 times per day. No more push notifications and no app icon badges for unread messages to pull me out of my zone. Don’t worry, the world will keep humming along without your immediate attention.
- Again, this is a great application for the “do not disturb” feature of my electronic devices. I love talking with my friends, living vicariously through their lives and adventures, but I need to effectively carve time out of my life to accomplish my goals. Just because it’s convenient for them (right this moment) to respond to last night’s [text or email] doesn’t mean that I have to read and respond to it now.
- Instagram is an addictive and wonderfully entertaining app. I mostly follow travel photographers, dog owners, extreme athletes and outdoors people. Instagram takes me from my own reality and allows me to see new parts of the world from the comfort of my own home. But you know what? As much as I enjoy Instagram, it’s not helping me achieve my goals. As much as I love seeing my friends’ adorable baby photos on Facebook, they aren’t helping me connect with the WehnerEd community and enabling hundreds of y’all to impact your lives for the better.
My environment for success is notification-free. Is yours?
Next, an all-important aspect of my environment is my YouTube work playlist
- Already set for me. I click a random video or play it on shuffle. No time wasted or distraction from what I need to focus on from looking through my entire library of albums. Ambient background noise to protect me from distractions.
- Athletes talk about getting in their flow- a state of complete focus where they train and perform at their best. No distractions. Pure execution. Music helps me to achieve the same focus and results in my work and exercise. A 2-hour run seems to fly by and items melt off my to-do list during the workday when I’m locked into my playlist.
- In the past, while working in libraries or coffee shops my mind would quickly wander when someone coughed, took a phone call, received a text… I use headphones. They’re like blinders for my ears and they put me in my own little bubble.
- I created a version of my work playlist on the WehnerEd YouTube channel. Find it by searching us in Google, or check the show notes. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLAxzevUhwpMOrce00r-nGyHEJpPggkt4s
Another simple tool that I use daily… is a timer.
I don’t recall who I picked up this idea from, but I owe much of my productivity (personally and professionally) to a simple timer app on my Mac called “Be Focused.” Right before I start my playlist… and always with a clear picture in my mind of what I’m going to accomplish… I set a 40-minute timer for some-of-that all-in, distraction-free good good. No texts, no email, no reading the news, nothing but 100% progress.
By setting the expectation in advance that nothing can get in my way, I find it much easier to push aside temping distractions that could spiral into hours of sloth. Similar to how meditation involves the practice of recognizing thoughts that could derail your bliss, timer mode is your time to quiet your wandering mind.
If something important does cross your mind, take a quick moment to jot down a note for you to follow up with later… and jump right back in. As silly as it sounds, I just ordered a new pair of shoes online and the package is scheduled to arrive today. I’m excited as Christmas morning to wear them out for the first time tomorrow night. I’ve checked the FedEx tracking page probably a dozen times already today, and the only reason I’m not checking it now is because of my timer.
Find your source of discipline, and honor the rules to help you level-up your game.
This next tip… is probably the factor that impacts my success the most.
An absolute must for anyone setting out to accomplish anything new… is to break down your goals into bite-size chunks. As you’ve likely heard over and over again, your goals should be SMART. Specific, Measurable, Achievable (or actionable), Realistic, and timely with a specific deadline. When I set my 2018 goals, each of them has a 1-year deadline, which feels like forever away. As with every year prior, 2018 will be gone before you know it and you’ll wake up in December cursing yourself for letting your goals slip away a 4th year in a row. Although I go overboard and break down my yearly goals into monthly bytes before breaking them down into daily bits, creating a clear list of goals at the beginning of each day is critical.
On days that I don’t start the day off with a clear vision of what I need to accomplish, it’s easy for me to slip into lazy-Ross-mode and get nothing done at all. Seriously, my productivity goes from 100 to 0 real quick without a daily to-do list. No one (however rich and famous they are) is immune. Setting goals daily that lead up to your bigger-picture plans is your best shot at being your best. I write my goals on a fresh post-it note each day. I live for crossing off those items. As I’ve mentioned in the blog- small benefits add up to big results.
Two pro tips on this topic:
- I’ve also heard of others setting goals in the evenings ahead of the next day so they’re ready to go in the morning. Food for thought.
- Part of setting SMART goals is making sure that they’re achievable. When I set a goal last year to do 15,000 pushups and sit-ups, I intentionally built in flexibility for the unknown. Doing 50 of each exercise each day meant that I only needed to execute on 300 of 365 days, or 82% of the time. If I had set the goal such that I was immediately off-track after one missed day, then I would have felt down on myself when I was sick last winter. I might have given up only 1 month into the year. Life happens. Plan for the unknown so that you can be successful no matter what.
Something to keep in mind when setting goals is to make sure that your goals are stretching you to grow beyond where you are today. It’s a common saying that without growth, your last 6 months will likely represent your next 6 months pretty closely.
Think about where you were 6 months ago. If you aren’t looking forward to being in that same position 6 months from now, something has to change. Take a moment to visualize where you want to be 6 months from now. Do you desire to get promoted above your current job? Are you yearning to find something more rewarding altogether?
Clearly define what goals you want to achieve it is that will make your next 6 months… your best ever… and those that will poise you for the life that you would be proud to live. Without change and growth, your last 6 months will likely represent your next 6 months.
Appropriately following goal setting, let’s talk about accountability. Setting goals is all well and good, but without accountability, your perfect goals might never come to fruition.
Accountability comes in many forms, but ultimately you need a reason or several reasons why you should achieve what you’ve laid out for yourself.
A simple place to start is to remind yourself why you’ve set these goals specifically. As recommended by Hal Elrod in the book The Miracle Morning, I review a set of affirmations each morning before putting my head down to work. My affirmations not only remind me of “you guys” ….the audience that I strive to serve day-in and day-out, but also reminds me why I work as hard as I do. When I’m old and am looking back on my life, my contributions to the future of education and my success in helping others create a strong future for themselves makes all of my hard work worthwhile. For me (as I record this way past my usual bedtime) this fact is motivation enough to put in the long hours necessary to turn the WehnerEd into a household name. I have identified my hunger and have found a wonderful way to satisfy it. Take a few quiet moments today to identify what motivates you to put in the extra effort to create your own success.
For those that have a harder time identifying their purpose and find self-motivation evasive, there are plenty of other methods as well.
The simplest is to talk with your friends and family. Tell them about your goals and how you plan to make them happen. Share what you're working on, why you're working on it. Explain why it's important to you and ask them to check up on you periodically to make sure that you're staying true to your word. If you’re serious about your goals, you’ll be able to overcome the stage fright of sharing your true passions with those closest to you.
Another option that Tim Ferriss mentioned in his book The 4 Hour Body is a website called Stickk.com. The premise of this site is simple: set a goal for yourself, and set a penalty if you fail to achieve it. Not a fan of Trump? Set your stakes as a thousand dollar campaign donation for 2020. Do you think landing on the moon was a hoax? Have your wager support NASA and space exploration. Other less-fun options include donating to charities like United Way, but regardless, you have money on the line to ensure you stay true to yourself. Finish your registration with Stickk by choosing a referee to hold you accountable, and off you go. See if this site doesn’t motivate you!
Don’t get me wrong. I am by no means perfect and it’s much easier to say all of these tips than to execute them myself. If you don’t hear from me again, YouTube is likely to blame. Hidden behind the facade of cat videos, countdown videos, and videos titled “you won’t believe what happens next” is a plethora of quality free content. At this point, I should start to quantify the number of videos I’ve watched in months instead of hours. I just found the Motherboard channel and …LOVE IT.
Ended episode here. More tips provided in CHP011 (next week!)