My friend: there is one resource that is more valuable than all of the gold, diamond, and jewels in the world. It has contributed to the rise and fall of every major empire around the globe, and is the source of every fortune.
Hacking this one thing is more valuable than all of the other growth hacks and life hacks in the entire world.
The resource which I speak, of course, is time.
This post is a sort of a bonus that I wanted to publish as a free chapter from “Dr Growth” as a special “treat” for my readers.
The goal is to teach you ways to “hack” time to make it your ally. Others, looking in from the outside, will not be able to understand the secret to how you are able to accomplish so much so quickly.
The most brilliant entrepreneurs and marketers I’ve been privileged to know have not been just smart or innately talented people. They have also mastered the secrets of how to manage their time; are disciplined about their routines; and maintain devotion to mastering their craft.
They don’t rest on their laurels and are their own best motivators. In short, they HUSTLE.
Now, I want to give you a heads-up: this will probably be the single greatest outline of habits that contribute to peak productivity that you will ever read, from any source.
The reason is that I’ve drawn references and performed research using a variety of sources across a wide spectrum of disciplines, and integrated and experimented with their use, over many years.
From NLP to willpower to cybernetics to medical research and brain science to the arts, I’ve collected wisdom from a variety of sources. And it’s all here, laid out, in this post.
This is going to be fun.
First, let’s begin with an important distinction…
Managing Energy, Not Time is the Key to Peak Productivity
Conventional productivity systems fail because they stress the importance of managing time while ignoring energy, motivation, attention, willpower, and adherence.
The reason for this shortcoming is that western thinking prefers to study variables that are easily measured in units (such as minutes and hours), while ignoring other holistic factors that are more difficult to track and scientifically prove.
My system takes a different approach: I believe that managing energy (and by extension — attention, focus, and willpower), is the key to hacking time and unleashing productivity.
I was introduced to this concept through the work of Tony Schwartz, founder of the Energy Institute and author of “The Power of Full Engagement.” The discovery of this idea has dramatically changed how I approach my work and my life.
The school of thought I’ve developed for peak productivity and hacking time initially begun with this idea. I took Schwartz’s revelation and expanded upon it a great deal through my own personal experiments.
And I’ve divided everything I’ve learnt into two frameworks for hacking time.
As I performed research for my book “Hack Sleep,” I studied countless medical research articles describing the function of the sleep and wakefulness centers of the brain and the exogenous cues that trigger or hinder the function of each.
Many people who write about productivity advocate things such as “harnessing the hour of power” (when attention and focus is at its peak), or trying the “pomodoro method” or some other such form of scheduling which incorporates periods of intense activity followed by rest.
While these make sense in theory, no one is actually able to scientifically prove what it actually is that regulates these cycles.
No one is digging beneath the veneer and catchy “hacks” to provide a roadmap of what, why, or how we have periods of intense productivity — and how to schedule our time accordingly.
Fortunately, we have such a map. It’s called the “circadian rhythm.” Understand how this works, and you will win big.
Knowing how this cycle of renewing and expending energy operates is key to unleashing creative energy. And once you understand it, you’ll gain an unfair advantage.
The circadian rhythm or circadian clock is a 24-hour cycle that regulates the most important functions that our bodies perform each day: our metabolism, immune system, cardiovascular system, reproductive system, and much more. It also affects our mood, health, and energy in all kinds of ways that most of us don’t realize.
The circadian rhythm is regulated by the cycle of light and dark. When light enters our eyes, certain functions begin. When we are exposed to light at nighttime, certain important functions are blocked and become more difficult to perform (such as sleep).
I came to understand this cycle intimately when I performed research for my book “Hack Sleep.”
From it I know:
• Levels of alertness peak in the mid-morning, at around 10:00am. This is also when our willpower is at its highest and the best time to “swallow the frog” and work on our highest-level tasks (such as writing and creative work).
• Exposure to light (especially direct sunlight) is extremely important to create serotonin in the brain, improving energy, mood, and sleeping habits. It is equally important to block out all exposure to light after sunset — use candles or dim lights in the home, and consider wearing light-dimming eyewear in the evenings if you live in a big city.
• Body temperature dips to its lowest daily point at 3:00pm, making early afternoons the most difficult time to work and the best time to nap.
• Two tablespoons of coconut oil can increase body temperature, unleashing greater levels of alertness, focus, and productivity. Cardiovascular exercise also increases body temperature.
• Eating pineapple in the evenings boosts melatonin production by 266%, improving sleep efficiency and quality.
Knowing how the circadian rhythm works, in my opinion, is a crucial edge for any creator. You can get your most important work done before others even finish their morning e-mail review.
You can also parlay this knowledge into even more competitive advantages, such as polyphasic sleep. I followed a polyphasic schedule for three months last year and my productivity shot through the roof.
During that time, I slept for four hours each night and took two 25 minute naps during the day, gaining an extra three hours, and keeping energy levels high throughout the day.
I don’t follow a polyphasic sleep schedule these days. But I do nap at the appropriate times, and I know when to capitalize on my most productive times and how to relax during the least productive periods. The circadian rhythm provides a model which makes my entire life easy and stress-free.
Further, I categories my work into three different tiers depending on my levels of energy and willpower:
Level 1: Hard, intensive tasks such as as writing, programming, creative work, writing strong pitches, copywriting, creating campaigns, and so on.
Level 2: Moderate tasks such as returning messages, email, editing podcasts, directing my team, and preparing content (such as adding images and links to blog posts)
Level 3: Usually mundane tasks that require little more than a click and a pulse. Examples include replying to comments on social media, sharing posts to Facebook or Instagram, non high-priority email, automated work, and so on.
The ability to match the right type of work to the peaks and troughs in the circadian cycle is a force multiplier because you’ll be able to complete the most difficult jobs easily and save yourself from wasting time working on mundane activities at the wrong time.
Also — if it’s the end of the day and I’m tired, rather than start a hard task I’ll sometimes create an outline and notes so that I can start work on it tomorrow.
This helps make the difficult work easier to begin and complete and also starts our subconscious mind down the path we want well in advance.
Habit Gravity and Escape Velocity
Habit Gravity and Escape Velocity are two of my favorite metaphors which explain why we have so much trouble meeting our internal resistance.
They also show us the tremendous opportunity available to us once we understand these concepts and how to use this understanding to our advantage.
“Escape velocity” is a term borrowed from physics. It refers to the speed needed to “break free” from the gravitational attraction of a massive body (such as the earth), without further propulsion. Think of a rocket ship as it takes off. A rocket requires massive propulsion and an enormous expenditure of energy to achieve escape velocity.
90% of the inertia encountered during takeoff occurs as the rocket breaks the gravity barrier. Once it has broken free, the forward flight of the rocket becomes almost effortless.
Our own internal resistance behaves in much a similar way. Whenever we perform something new, or a novel practice (as outlined in the Cynefin framework) our brain doesn’t want to go along with it.
Our mind puts up a barrier. We’re programmed to resist change, especially if its uncomfortable. The first step to overcoming this phenomenon is to identify it for what it is: escape velocity. It’s just the natural instinct of our internal wiring, and nothing more.
Fortunately, there are a number of ways to meet and overcome this internal resistance, and once you know these techniques, it becomes easier and easier.
Once we achieve escape velocity — and achieve a strong forward momentum, our efforts become more and more effortless. This is the same as when a rocket begins to defy gravity.
As we achieve more and more momentum — another force begins to pull us upward, which I call “habit gravity.” As we become more consistent and diligent, what was once hard and painful becomes easier and easier.
This applies to everything. Any worthy endeavour — especially the ones that force us to grow outside of our comfort zone — follow a similar process.
If you need to start something but it’s difficult at first, stick with it. With time and effort you’ll overcome your own inertia. Before long, repeating the same process successfully becomes almost effortless.
You can also use a number of the hacks detailed in this article to truly master your mind and not become a slave to its tendencies.
“Mind your mind; guard it resolutely. Since it is the mind that confuses the mind, don’t let your mind give in to your mind.”
– Suzuki Shosan
Onward and upward.
How to Speed Read — Training Wheels For the Mind
A great practice for harnessing our minds to go in the direction we want is through speed reading.
When I asked my friend Tom Morkes to contribute a chapter for this very book joint ventures — he sent me a copy of his 360 page book, “Collaborate,” and asked me to make it easy for him by sending him questions.
Normally this would have been a huge headache and much bigger task than it needed to be. But thanks to the techniques I’m about to share with you, I sped read through his entire book on a single Sunday morning and afternoon. As it was a Sunday, I was going at a comfortable pace.
Before I get into the steps, I think that the way we are accustomed to read — by starting our way at the beginning and laboring through one page and one line at a time — is horribly inefficient.
Whenever I’ve tried to read books this way I’ve always found that my attention will wander onto anything and everything besides whatever is I sat to read about.
If I command my brain to perform a task, and it isn’t ready, it naturally rebels.
So to make this work is rather simple. We have to follow the same standard practice of initiating momentum, and starting our minds down the path we want to take it.
Note that this process is mainly for discovering and processing information from nonfiction books (not literature), and this practice can apply to other resources as well, such as articles and blogs, to dramatically improve the speed at which you discover and retain the information that you need.
My speed reading technique is based upon the same principle that I use to do almost everything: in order to wrap my head around the subject matter, I want to perform a “vulcan mind meld” with the author. I want to tickle different corners of my mind with various ideas related to the topic and go deep on the subject matter. I want to become consumed by it. And to do so in a deliberate, efficient manner.
How to speed read books and blogs
1. Always start with “why.” You should have a specific thing you wish to discover before you begin, or a problem that you want to solve. This is a specific goal, and having a specific goal makes accomplishing a task simple: we did it or we didn’t. Reading books or listening to podcasts or reading articles on the internet just for the sake of it is not an efficient use of our time.
2. Perform a Vulcan mind meld. Start with the outline, browse table of contents, carefully reading each chapter title and any bullets or subheaders. Invariably some chapters will stand out and “hook” you more than others. By simply skipping the chapters you aren’t interested in or merely quickly scanning them (in the next step), half of your work is done already.
3. It’s time to jump into the content — with a caveat. First, decide whether to start at the beginning of the book or skipping ahead to only the chapters that interest you.
Instead of reading the content the normal way, quickly scan through each page. Pay extra attention to headers, images, diagrams, bold lettering, bullets, and other noteworthy sections of the text that stand out.
These provide important information quickly in bite-sized chunks, allowing us to understand the gist of the content without having to labor through every line.
You can easily get through each chapter in a few short minutes, and this exercise “jogs” your mind so that you’re literally “on the same page.” You clearly understand the central theme of each chapter and the most important message it conveys.
If you need to, go back to the beginning of the chapter and perform a quick scan of the actual “regular” text this time. Try to dig deeper with the intent of finding the answers to the questions you have.
At this stage, I’ll often skip or just briefly browse sections which feature stories and case studies and only read the part where it gets to the point. The details don’t always matter. I also find it faster to keep my eyes focused on the center of each paragraph and skip over glancing at the first and last words of each line. This frees up my eyes to move vertically rather than from side to side, saving time.
When you find something that’s really valuable and relevant to what you hope to learn, you may need to read it two or three times to fully absorb it. If applicable, you may want to act on the information then and there.
In any case, when you find something good, highlight the information or take notes. You may want to record the page number of certain concepts that you’ll like to reference later.
Since we retain 90% of what we teach, I always like to borrow the best takeaways I find and share them — either by passing along some information to friends and creating a discussion, creating a post to share to Reddit or to a Facebook group, or including it within a blog post.
The information must be acted upon in some way in order to be retained — so sharing it immediately afterwards in some form of content is highly desirable. This also reinforces your identity and promotes the reputation or brand that you wish to create.
When you take the best tactics from marketing books and share them (with credit) in influential marketing groups, or with your clients, people will soon come to see you as an expert.
Whenever I want to create some kind of content or give a speech, I always prefer the subject matter to be on some topic that I actually want to learn. Something that I don’t know very well; a topic that I’m not quite a full-fledged expert on.
A perfect example of this was when I wrote my book, “Hack Sleep.” I was a longtime insomniac when I begun writing the book, but through the process of writing, I came to know everything there was to know about the subject.
If you really want to master an area, don’t simply read a book, write a book about it 🙂 This forces you to take an entirely different approach and truly commit to mastery by tying your identity and the actions you take to follow through with your area of focus.
Instead of dipping a toe in this compels you to dive headfirst into the pool, where you may be surprised by how empty it is. Pretty soon everyone will be looking to you as the expert.
Which destination would you like to visit today?
Beyond the practical benefits it provides, speed reading is a useful exercise that allows us to develop greater levels of cognitive control.
Observe your thoughts from afar. Thoughts emerge, disappear, and reemerge all of the time. When you observe a thought, you have the option to embrace or discard it.
Since we understand that the mind moves in lateral directions, think of them like trains. One simple thought leads down a rabbithole to a succession of accompanying ones, so ask yourself: “Is that a destination I want to visit?”
Bonus: the process that we apply to speed reading works in other areas too. For instance if you wanted to write a post about productivity, you begin with the end goal in mind and can use search modifiers to find results in Google and quickly scan posts and descriptions to find the references that you are looking for.
Finding results quickly can save us a great deal of time in the digital world, with all of its information and distractions (Google has indexed over 130 trillion web pages on the internet as of December 2016, according to SearchEngineLand.com).
Example: I can quickly use Google’s index much like a table of contents on any given website by using the search modifier such as “site:tinybuddha.com productivity.” Through this simple practice, we can collect a variety of references from multiple perspectives and create better content more quickly.
This personal practice is also immensely valuable for one other important reason, by using what’s called “tickler files” to break escape velocity.
Another way to start our mind off in the direction that we want in the direction we want is to use what’s called “tickler files.” This is a concept derived from psycho-cybernetics, a practice created by Maxwell Maltz in the 1960s and outlined in his book of the same name.
Cybernetics is defined as an approach to exploring regulatory systems and optimizing them by breaking down to their component parts. This discipline analyzes the structure of a system to uncover its weaknesses and explore potential strengths.
Psycho-cybernetics is a discipline created by Maltz that applies this practice to human psychology. Tony Robbins, Zig Ziglar, Brian Tracy, and many great writers and coaches in personal development have based their work on Maltz.
“Tickler Files” are gears that help get our mind turning. They could be articles, PDFs, videos, that we’ve saved around the subject we want to focus on that will start firing off ideas in our mind.
For example, if I’m creating a sales page, I’ll write it out first and get it done in one sitting. Then I’ll come to it a few days later with fresh eyes to edit and improve what I wrote and make it shine.
But I don’t come up with my own ideas on how to improve my copy — it’s more effective to borrow them from elsewhere. I’ll consult the tickler files to wrap my head around the task at hand and also deliver an excellent result.
For example, if I turn to tickler files from great copywriting masters such as John Caples, Gary Bencivenga, Gary Halbert, John Carlton, David Ogilvy, Claude Hopkins, and others I can study them, follow their advice, and instantly come up with several different ideas for how I can improve my copy.
I’ll notice when a headline is weak, and know exactly how to improve it.
I’ll notice when my sales page is lacking adequate social proof, or when the copy is too timid and uninspiring, or when my claims seem too unbelievable and require more credibility. All of this because I have the work of the best copywriting experts alongside of me.
The point is that I’m borrowing the best ideas from elsewhere and not creating them out of thin air based on a hunch, my own (lack of) genius, or my own intuition. I’m following exactly what works. And it’s much easier to borrow a great headline and simply change the niche it’s tailored to, then to attempt to extract killer ideas from the nebula of the mind.
Which brings me to my next point…
“Good Artists Borrow, Great Artists Steal”
“Good artists borrow, great artists steal” is a famous quote attributed to Picasso.
Never start any project with a blank canvas. Always begin with templates or frameworks that start you on the path to completing your task. You can reuse your own templates, purchase them, or borrow them from other sources and make them your own.
If the hardest part of a project is starting, then it makes sense to ease the burden.
If you want to write, borrow the voice from other writers you admire. I occasionally swipe metaphors and sentences from great copywriters such as Gary Bencivenga, Claude Hopkins, and Gary Halbert, and customize them to make them my own.
Why Lazy, Dumb Programmers are the Best
In 2005, Philipp Lenssen wrote a classic post that declared that the best programmers are lazy and dumb. Only lazy programmers, he explained, will be motivated to create tools that make the workflow more efficient. Lazy programmers will also avoid the long hours writing repetitive, monotonous code, which speeds up production. They borrow code from elsewhere and build on top of it.
Second, he states that great programmers must also be dumb — not the smartest in their class — because they have to keep learning. Further, great usability is about dumbing something down for the end user, not creating interfaces which are too intelligent and complicated.
It doesn’t matter where you start or how hard you work. The finished result is all that anyone cares about. The easier you make life for yourself — and your end users, the better off everyone will be.
Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule
Now that we understand how to harness and channel our mental resources, how should we organize our schedule?
I have two frameworks that I use. The first is the concept of “managing energy, not time” as introduced earlier in this post. The second is that of the “maker’s schedule, manager’s schedule.”
In my experience, I’ve found that it makes far more sense to batch groups of activities together by the day or the half-day rather than scheduling everything haphazardly. This enables me to start things and see them through all the way until the end. Half-finished tasks are sometimes subjected to weeks or even months of delay, and sometimes never even become completed at all.
When I say “groups of activities” I mean that certain aspects of running my businesses require completely different parts of my brain to process and execute.
For instance, tasks such as lead generation and outreach activities to market my website are very extroverted activities. I find it very hard to suddenly stop doing that and focus on something requiring introspection and uninterrupted focus, such as writing. Marketing and lead generation requires me to be very social, talk to a lot of people, and to write a lot of short messages.
Writing killer content requires me to go deep on a subject, and wrap my head around one topic for several hours. I can’t have that time interrupted by meetings or Skype calls.
Fortunately, there’s a simple framework to help guide us, courtesy of Paul Graham (of Y Combinator): called the Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule.
Unfortunately, most entrepreneurs don’t seem to have an understanding of the way that these two schedules are structured, so they kind of chaotically bounce around between the two. And they are always stressed all of the time, never able to get everything done, and never seem to have time for anything but work. I used to be this way.
The maker’s schedule is suited for difficult, high-level work such as writing, programming, or designing. It’s a period of single-minded focus on the task at hand, devoting as much time as you need to make it the best it can be.
You can’t write a chapter of a book or complete a programming job within an hour. That’s barely enough time to get started. When you’re on the maker’s schedule, a single meeting can ruin a half day’s worth of productivity. So if you do have meetings, calls, and emails to tend to, plan ahead of time and schedule those on the manager’s schedule…
The manager’s schedule is a more traditional way of how we consider our schedule. It’s embodied by the classic appointment book, divided into one-hour intervals. For people who operate on this schedule, being productive is simply a matter of finding an open slot and booking it. Most salespeople run on this schedule.
However, a salesperson who is one-part rainmaker and one-part influencer, writer, and thought leader must understand the importance of these two schedules and structure their time accordingly.
Armed with this knowledge, I have a very simple (yet loose) hybrid schedule with certain days devoted to certain types of activities: Marketing Mondays, Writing Wednesdays, and Followup Fridays.
In general, I like to keep my schedule (and routines) rather flexible, keeping Tuesdays and Thursdays open, because that’s what works for me. I’ll never work for more than half a day on weekends.
In general, I’ve found it immensely helpful to set aside certain days for certain activities to remind me of what I need to do and when:
Mondays are devoted to marketing activities. This is a broad umbrella category that includes anything and everything related to promoting myself, my business efforts, or establishing business contacts and connections.
This could mean scheduling my blog posts to groups and forums, or launching promotions of my books. It might mean preparing e-mails to a list of people I want to reach, creating a Facebook ads campaign, and so on.
The general best practice with these activities is to perform each manually so that you get plenty of hands-on practice until you’re sure what you are doing is working. Then semi or fully automate to 5x or 10x your efforts to a higher level.
Wednesdays are days when I prioritize content creation. This might include preparing a new podcast, writing a new blog post, or working on another creative project such as a sales landing page. Some activities are more challenging then others so I categorize my work into three separate tiers depending on the difficulty (more on this system later in this article).
Again, much like “Marketing Mondays” these are activities that I might forget to do regularly if I didn’t set aside a certain day for them.
Fridays present an opportunity to reflect and see if what I’ve done this week is working. It’s a chance to analyze the systems and processes that are running my business and look to ways that they can be improved. It’s a chance to pause, reflect, and learn.
An example might mean signing up for a new app or service that can improve my Instagram engagement, or installing a plugin that will grow my mailing list. I might dedicate the day to learning, reading new blog posts that I’ve saved, reach out to another entrepreneur I admire to seek feedback, or listen to podcasts on a topic I’m keenly interested in.
It’s also a chance to zoom out from constant daily tasks and look at my business objectively to see if my model it’s working. Am I making enough sales? How might I stimulate more referrals? Are my clients content and being communicated with enough? Is there more I can be doing to increase customer happiness and retention that I’m not currently doing?
Just like marketing and writing, these Friday reviews are very important activities to the sustained success of my business that I’d likely forget or procrastinate on performing if I hadn’t designated a day each week to prioritize them.
By making this my main priority each Friday, it frees me up to have time to think and to brainstorm about how I can move forward without the added pressure of needing to get 10 other things done.
Fewer Decisions, Fewer Distractions
Having certain days of the week devoted to specific activities means one less important decision I have to make. I think it’s important to hoard decision-making power as much as possible.
If you hung out with me, the first thing you would notice is that I eat the same foods every day. I also dress simply, and my wardrobe fits in my backpack. This makes it easy for me to direct focus to the places where it’s needed.
Great people such as Barack Obama, Mark Zuckerberg, and Steve Jobs do the same — wear the same clothes each day, and eat the same foods:
“You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” — President Obama
Each decision we have to make saps us of a little bit of our daily reservoir of willpower, so we need to hoard it and focus on the decisions that matter most.
Master Your Mind
Heuristics = The Ultimate Time Hack
Heuristics are essentially mental shortcuts that ease the cognitive load of making a decision. The fewer decisions we have to make, the more bandwidth we have for making the really important decisions.
They are also simple mental models that help explain complex things simply. Through heuristics, we solve problems we encounter more quickly and reduce the amount of stress and energy we spend on certain tasks.
A great practical example that I like to use is Logojoy (logojoy.com), which is an AI-powered logo maker. Yes, I can create logos myself (I was trained to do so at the Art Institute), but doing so involves making too many decisions about font, colors, imagery and icons, and so on. Even the task of finding a color is tremendously burdensome and not a good way to be expending my mental energy.
Fortunately, Logojoy lets you fill in some parameters about what you want (logos you like, brand name, icon keywords etc.), and spits out some finished products. Often, these logos are perfectly fine on their own. But the most important function is to give me ideas of a finished product so that I don’t have to make a lot of decisions or force my mind to pull ideas out of the grey area of my own mind.
Other heuristics I’ve adopted in making life decisions are:
• Err on the side of action. If you come to a fork in the road, always take it. If someone invites you on a trip, go. You won’t always be right if you act but at least you know you took the chance and have no regrets. This practice also trains you to make decisions quicker and take small steps outside of your comfort zone.
• Try to do things that would make your friends say wow: a simple heuristic for picking projects. According to Gino Lee, you should spend your time doing not only things that you enjoy, but things that you admire. Things that will make your friends say “wow, that’s pretty cool.”
If we aren’t working on something that we love and admire, we’ll have problems with procrastination, need to force ourselves to work, and create work that is inferior.
• Never attribute to malice what could be attributed to carelessness. Or: Don’t assume bad intentions over neglect and misunderstanding. Known as “Hanlon’s Razor,” this heuristic helps to prevent misunderstanding and conflict between two parties.
• The simplest solution is generally the best choice; and it’s better to be decisive than to be correct. Known asOccam’s Razor , among competing choices or hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected. For example: if you hear hoofbeats, it’s more likely to assume the cause to be horses rather than zebras.
• Minimum effective dose: Use the minimum amount of resources necessary to achieve the result desired. Anything exceeding this is overkill.
There are of course many more heuristics you can create or incorporate into your life, and I’m sure you have many of your own. But this sample set is enough to get started!
Use Metaphor to Simplify Communication
If you want to be a leader, an influencer, or a teacher… then you need to learn the power of a great metaphor.
You can use a hundred words to convey an idea or a single metaphor. I prefer the latter — it’s faster and more efficient.
Metaphors also allow us to do the person we’re communicating with a great service by not rambling on with our message. They keep our message brisk and engaging.
For instance, during a growth hacking speech I gave two days ago, someone asked me if I believed that automation was the future. I could have rambled on at length and lost the attention of more than half the crowd.
Instead I replied:
“One hundred years ago, people rode horses to work. So you tell me.”
Pitches work the same way. When you ask most people what they do, they ramble with a vague and unfocused answer that completely loses the attention of the person who asked.
Metaphors can help. They are very powerful for creating mental images in people’s minds consistently and predictably. They also delight when used in a clever and creative manner. For these reasons, metaphors work beautifully when writing pitching or writing sales copy.
A few examples might be: “peeling back the curtain and showing you,” “hold your hand,” “blowing the whistle on the industry,” “I felt like a kid in a candy shop,” “bull in a china store, smashing this industry to bits.”
Using metaphors is fun, once you develop the habit! This is my favorite technique to communicate with people and get them on the exact same page by breaking down larger concepts into bite-sized metaphors that are easy to understand.
When Steve Jobs introduced a product, he didn’t bore his audience by rambling on and on about. Instead, he exclaimed, “This is insanely great!”
A great influencer needs to be able to paint a picture that is easy to understand. He needs to dumb down complex concepts into a bite-sized manner and get his audience on the same page.
Jobs knew what he was doing.
Willpower is our most sacred form of energy. Willpower is affected by many factors, such as energy, emotions, confidence level, and of course — whether you want something badly enough!
To understand the limits (and secrets) of willpower, we need only look to the world’s greatest athletes.
The Insight Race Across America (raceacrossamerica.org) has been called the hardest competition on the entire planet — a non-stop, 3,000 mile + bicycle race from California to Maryland. The event is a free-for-all, with each athlete cycling as fast as he can, for as long as he can, while sleeping as little as he can.
For years, the race was dominated by one man — a Slovenian named Jure Robic. He was like the New England Patriots of the competition, winning first place in the men’s solo five times. Every bit of Robic’s routine, diet, and resting periods were optimized to the minutest detail by his team. His level of physical fitness was impeccable.
But these factors were simply not enough to be the best; Robic had something unique that drove him on to win.
On the road to his first victory in 2004, Robic was two-thirds of the way into the race when he thought he was finished. He had given it his all, but he simply could not keep going.
Then his best friend and crew mate, Milan Stanovnik, shouted at Robic to remind of his past and upbringing. As a child, Jure was beaten by his father and told that he would never amount to anything. Then he joined the Slovenian military, where he was treated like dirt by officers.
It was these hardships that drove Robic to cycling in the first place. He wanted to prove everyone that he could amount to something. He wanted to prove that he was a champion.
Just as Robic was on the verge of giving up, Stanovnik shouted, “You show Slovenia, you show the army, you show the world what you are!”
For the next two hours, Robic experienced a surge of energy, riding like a madman and breaking records on the way to his first world title.
There are two things we can learn from Robic’s example:
1. Fatigue is an emotion. Physiologists used to believe that muscles became tired when they simply cannot keep going. In truth, we’ve discovered that fatigue is caused by signals from the limbic system which have nothing to do with our body’s ability to perform or continue exerting energy. They are simply signals — thoughts and emotions just like any others that we experience.
The prefrontal cortex of our brain is our decision-making engine. It is more advanced than the more primitive limbic system, and is used to think, plan, and exert willpower. It can actually override signals of fatigue and resistance from the limbic system. In short, it can respond to these feelings by saying “this is worth it!”
2. If your mission — the reason why you’re doing something in the first place — is strong enough, it will override the brain’s natural urge to slow down, quit, or give up.
If you have a desire, dream, or a resolute purpose driving you forward, it can help you tap into a vast reservoir of willpower. Your limits extend much further than you realize.
Whenever you struggle, hit a low point, or feel like you cannot continue, remember your purpose. Remember “why” you begun this journey in the first place.
Michael Jordan, considered by many as the greatest basketball player of all time, failed to make his high school basketball team. He used the experience to drive him onward and become the best the world had seen. His advice? “Use every slight to motivate you,” and stay driven.
I use both slights to motivate me but also love. There are certainly people in the past who have misjudged me, whom I want to prove wrong. But I also remember that I was fortunate enough to have a father who loved me more than words can describe.
Whenever I experience anxiety or self-doubt, such as the moment before I’m about to go on stage and deliver a talk, I remember his unconditional love and support. It gives me the boost of confidence and peace of mind that I need to shine and be my best.
It’s an interesting paradox: both positive and negative emotions, impulses, and memories can motivate us to excel. Everything depends on how we perceive these thoughts and use them to fuel our willpower.
Exogenous Hacks that Fuel Willpower
Besides emotion and desire, there are other factors and activities we can engage in that directly contribute to the amount of willpower we are able to tap into.
The first way to “hack” willpower is through food.
When the body takes in food, it creates a chemical known as glucose that travels through the blood stream. The brain uses glucose as its source of fuel to think, create, and exert willpower.
Any food that contains calories will give your brain glucose that it can use. However, high-glycemic foods (breads, sugar, etc) cause a high spike in glucose, which provides a very short burst of energy. High glucose levels cannot be sustained, and always results in a crash.
On the other hand, low-glycemic foods provide sustained energy levels throughout the day. This includes lean proteins, nuts, eggs, yogurt, and water-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables. Go for fresh fruits instead of dried ones — which typically contain more sugar.
It might seem cliche, and you’ve probably heard it about a thousand times. Yet anyone who has ever played the game of life at a high level understands the importance of meditation.
In life, we’re often winning at the same time that we’re losing. We could make massive progress in one area, while another part of our life is neglected.
Meditation provides a means to rise above the chaotic and consistent demands of a high pressure, high responsibility lifestyle. It helps us to stay calm in the particularly trying situations that every leader faces.
Research by the American Journal of College Health shows that just ten minutes of daily meditation can reduce stress and improve decision-making.
Usually I will try to incorporate yoga poses for an even deeper, more powerful meditation. Yoga means “union” with a deeper, more powerful, more spiritual presence — an interconnectedness with a supreme being.
It is misunderstood by most outside of India, who think of yoga merely as an exercise. However, the original yogi who brought yoga to the West, Parahamansa Yogananda, teaches that it is an ancient and venerable spiritual practice that allows us to connect a deep source of energy and creation — call it God, if you will (Yogananda even wrote a book called “The Yoga of Jesus”). This is the true power of yoga.
I read Yogananda’s work “Autobiography of a Yogi” during my travels in India, where I also studied the original form of kriya yoga. From my personal experience, combining yoga (and its breathing exercises) and meditation together allows us to tap into a deep and never-ending source of divine focus and willpower.
David Allen, author of “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity,” writes that the key to achieve big things is to break them down into small chunks.
Big goals can be counterproductive. It’s far more effective to have an overall vision or direction and focus our attention exclusively on daily, consistent tasks that will lead us there. Goals can become impotent and fade with time, but it’s the mission that stays. The process we create, we own forever.
For this reason I never set long-term goals over a one-year or three-year period. All of my goals are realistic objectives that I should be able to complete within 1–3 months. Sure, I have bigger “dream goals” that are rather unrealistic and that I want to achieve at some point in my life.
In general though, these are all linked to an overall mission or sense of purpose, so the goals themselves are nothing more than milestones of a life fully-lived.
Last but not least, quality sleep is perhaps the greatest cultivator of willpower of all; while lack of sleep perhaps the greatest detractor of willpower.
To master your sleep I recommend reading my book “Hack Sleep” which is available for just $2.99 on Amazon.
In general, though, here’s a few tips to remember:
• Expose yourself to sunlight immediately upon waking for at least fifteen minutes to start your body clock, and at least fifteen minutes (preferably more) at mid-day. If there is no sun where you live consider investing in Philips goLite or bright light lamps. Our body clocks need to be adjusted and synchronized every single day. Also, when light passes through the retina it releases serotonin (which makes us awake), and converts to melatonin in the evenings.
• Turn off all lights in the evenings. Use candles or dim the lights as much as possible. We did not evolve to be exposed to light after sunset. On average, we sleep one hour less than our great grandparents one hundred years ago, and electronic lighting is the culprit.
• Pineapple and bananas provide a natural boost of melatonin, helping us fall asleep and stay asleep. Stay away from supplements as much as possible (the active ingredient in melatonin pills is cow urine).
• Keep away from caffeine after mid-day; the earlier you drink your coffee the better.
• Difficult activities such as intense workouts and tasks requiring extreme mental focus break down adenosine triphosphate and accumulate adenosine (the “fatigue hormone”) within the brain, helping us sleep better.
• Body temperature, which affects our alertness, dips to its lowest daily point in our circadian rhythm at about 3:00pm, which is the perfect time for a 20 to 30 minute nap.
• Download “Hack Sleep” for more of the what, why, and how-to tips and hacks to help you get your best-ever sleep.
Managing Anxiety and Doubt
“Most ‘superheroes’ are nothing of the sort. They’re weird, neurotic creatures who do big things DESPITE lots of self-defeating habits and self-talk.” — Tim Ferriss
Cultivating willpower handles one of the end of the spectrum. Anxiety, doubt, and stress rob us of willpower and destroy our ability to produce.
According to research by Harvard and the University of Texas, effective leaders have high levels of testosterone (which cultivates willpower and reduces both fear and fatigue), and low levels of cortisol. The studies also make it clear that stress inhibits the benefits of testosterone and diminishes willpower.
But very few of us have the option to become yogis and move to the mountains of India, away from the stresses and pressure of the world. The greater our ambition, the greater the challenges and trying situations we’ll face.
Wouldn’t it be great, though, if all of the circumstances of our life were aligned favorably? In other words, we found ourselves at a point where our living situation, our professional life, our romantic relationship, our sense of purpose and well-being, our friendships, etc. were all exactly how we wanted them to be.
Wouldn’t that be something?
In truth, we have to wear play many roles in our lives and it’s very rare that we would describe every area as a 10 out of 10.
I could deliver a speech before a crowd of a hundred which results in a standing ovation, but afterwards have my date flake out on me the exact same evening (yes, I speak from experience). It’s very rare that everything goes perfect every single day.
No one wins 100% of the time. Even the greatest hitters in baseball only reach first base one-third of the time.
The great news is that we have power over how much the disappointments and losses in life affect us so that they don’t steer us astray too far. We can create stop measures to short-circuit undesirable thoughts and emotions as they are occurring.
Journaling is a fantastic way to get things outside of your head. But an even better way to view the issues you face in an objective manner is to describe them in the third person.
Journaling in the third-person is an exercise to detach yourself emotionally from your own challenges and problems by projecting them onto a persona. For instance, instead of writing “I’m stressed out over this issue,” or “I’m nervous about this upcoming launch,” I might write: “Danny is stressed out over this issue,” or “Danny is nervous about this upcoming launch.”
Have you ever noticed that sometimes you have trouble coming up with appropriate solutions to your own problems, but when a friend asks you for advice, you know exactly what they should do?
This is a curious paradox, indeed. One additional benefit of third person journaling is that it distances you from a challenge so that you can give advice in much the same manner — as if you were giving advice to a friend or colleague.
Theater of the Mind
The “Theater of the Mind” is another psychological concept created by Maxwell Maltz, author of “Psycho-Cybernetics.”
Maltz had a background as a cosmetic surgeon, helping patients to physically transform their entire appearance. He discovered something troubling: even though he was able to correct an ugly person’s external scars, their inner scars would still remain.
In other words, his patients became physically beautiful but still saw themselves as ugly, unworthy, and unlovable.
To achieve success, you need to develop a practice that allows you to see and consider yourself as a success first. You need to be able to happily achieve, rather than feeling the need to achieve to be happy.
If you want to do great things, visualize yourself doing those things in your mind’s eye first, creating vivid mental images. If you want to give a great speech, notice how confidently you stand on stage, gesturing and speaking. Listen to the sound of the crowd as they roar their approval and offer you a standing ovation.
In my own personal practice, I’ve found absolutely essential to not only have a “theater of the mind” but also a sanctuary of the mind. A quiet place I can retreat to at any time in my mind, free from all of the cares, concerns, and people in my life. A place just for me. Access to this sanctuary allows me to confront the challenges of daily life in a sane, orderly, clear-headed manner.
For me, this is a relatively new technique that I’ve begun to experiment with this year, which has already delivered great results for me. It’s called “EFT Tapping.”
The purpose of EFT tapping is to release energy through acupressure points on the head and body while simultaneously citing affirmations that release negative mental and psychological energy.
Tap each of these acupressure meridians at least 5 times, verbally acknowledging the problem that is upsetting or bringing you down while reciting an affirmation of love and acceptance:
“Even though I ______, I love and accept myself completely.”
“Even though I’m stressed over this breakup, I love and accept myself completely.”
“Even though I’m nervous about going onstage, I love and accept myself completely.”
“Even though I’m tired and have a headache, I love and accept myself completely.”
EFT tapping is somewhat unique among positive-thinking techniques in that it doesn’t ignore a problem; it acknowledges its existence while still allowing the practitioner to love and accept themselves despite the problem or flaw. It’s about accepting the fact that we are hurting but also accepting ourselves in spite of the pain, which opens a path to healing.
Cultivate True Excellence — Maximize Downtime
“Gentlemen, you, too, have spare time. The man who says: ‘I would do such and such a great thing, if only I had time!’ would do nothing if he had all the time on the calendar. There is always time — spare time — at the disposal of every human who has the energy to use it. Use it!” — Bruce Barton
The easiest way to stand out and separate yourself from the herd — to rise above the mediocre majority, claim your competitive edge, and achieve true greatness — is to capitalize upon your downtime.
Consider these facts for a moment:
1. Abraham Lincoln was a tired rail-splitter who self-educated himself by crouching over tattered books over candlelight, creating his destiny as his fellow laborers snored away — in his spare time.
2. Thomas Edison was an underpaid and overworked telegraph clerk who chased fantastic, nonsensical dreams… who famously proclaimed that he discovered 10,000 ways that didn’t work. He would go on to light up the entire world — in his spare time.
3. Alexander Graham Bell was an unknown professor at an obscure university who loathed the drudgery of the days. He spent evenings and holidays tinkering on a queer device, at which his colleagues laughed. He invented the telephone — in his spare time.
4. Scott Turrow wrote eleven best-selling books which have sold more than 30 million copies while commuting by train to his day job as an attorney in London. Yet another example of a person who created an empire — in his spare time.
I sold the last car that I owned more than five years ago and have been hopping around from country to country via bus, train, and plane ever since. Watching the behavior of my fellow passengers during these commutes is eye-opening (and also frustrating and mind-numbing).
Candy Crush. Pokemon Go. Senseless browsing of newsfeeds. To borrow a phrase from Tyler Durden: I saw so much potential, and saw all of it squandered.
I can only imagine how many minutes and hours I witnessed people wasting on buses, trains, airplanes and the like. I’ve tried to calculate in my head how many thousands of hours of combined productive potential was lost, between us, during these commutes.
Now, I work remotely from home or from coffeeshops, mind you. I can’t imagine commuting every single day and wasting so much downtime in such an unproductive fashion.
Interestingly, I began to notice that when I worked from planes or subways — I was far more productive than usual. Perhaps the thought of an unproductive plane or train ride to another city was such a strong incentive that it motivated me more than usual. Perhaps it was the high of putting my downtime to use. Perhaps it was the fact that there was no WiFi (except hotspot when needed) or distractions.
For a time, I deliberately turned the Bangkok’s Skytrain into my remote office, and wrote about the results. TLDR: it was one of the most productive periods of my life, and I often got a full day’s work done before lunchtime.
Besides the standard “Maker’s Schedule” work such as writing, designing, and editing projects, you can perform certain “Manager’s Schedule” activities during downtime as well. For instance, one of my favorite tricks is to list out contacts in a document and then write out the emails I plan to send once I have an internet connection.
For some reason, this practice has always proven to be a more efficient way of creating the emails I need to send. My inbox is too cluttered, too distracting, and WiFi provides too much temptation to browse around.
Now, one important distinction: when I talk about making the most of downtime, I’m suggesting practicing a regimen of creation. Lincoln, Edison, Bell, and Turrow were all men who created something. I created this blog.
While any great act of creation requires a great deal of self-education, be mindful of which side of the divide you are on. Great people create, mediocre people consume. I’m not a fan of reading books or listening to podcasts during free time just for its own sake.
If you must consume information, practice what I call “firing range exploration” — know the exact nugget of wisdom you are seeking before you begin. “Free range exploration,” by contrast, can sometimes be useful but is usually aimless and inefficient, leading us nowhere.
And as soon as you discover new information, implement or teach it.
And please, above all else, skip the newsfeed. Be disciplined where your downtime is concerned.