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Best Tips For Living A Simple, Productive Life

Best Tips For Living A Simple, Productive Life

Do you lack productivity despite finishing numerous tasks on a daily basis?

Maybe you’re doing the easy things first and are putting off hard work. Difficult tasks can weigh you down, making you feel like you didn’t accomplish anything at the end of the day.

Leo Babauta explains this predicament in his latest blog post about productivity.

He uses the example of high intensity exercises versus long, light workouts that are ineffective. From another perspective, one should invest in completing the hard stuff in his or her to-do list first due to the nature of such tasks.

Avoiding them can lead to anxiety and pressure.

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Prioritizing hard work does not mean you’ll finish it faster. However, it can give you peace of mind and relief for the rest of the day or week.

This advice is applicable in other aspects of life including business growth, relationships and finances.

The Hard Stuff Often Matters Most | Leo Babauta

The Hard Stuff Often Matters Most

I’ve tried a lot of types of exercise, but by far the most effective exercise in terms of results for time spent is heavy barbell lifts.

For 10-15 minutes of lifting a barbell laden with weights, I get a better physique, improved health, more strength and muscle, less bodyfat.

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I’ve spent hours running, doing bodyweight exercises, doing Crossfit, playing sports, biking, swimming, and generally doing the craziest kinds of exercises possible. They’re all very good, but for the time that I’ve invested in them, weights are the ones that matter most.

I’ve found the barbell method — lifting the heavy stuff but for short periods — works for lots of things in life. From productivity to relationships to finances to losing bodyfat to business growth.

The hard stuff really matters.

I’ll get to the productivity/finances/relationships stuff in a second, but first let me clarify: I’m talking about very simple, heavy barbell lifts for few reps and sets (3 sets of 4-7 reps). And do them with good form, or you might get injured. Start out light, get the form right, progressively add weight each week. The most important lifts are things like deadlifts and squats (best two), bench press, shoulder press, rows. Add some chinups and you’re done. With rest days in between. And yes, women should do these lifts too. Yes, runners should do them too. Yes, vegans can lift heavy too.

These lifts are hard, and so people avoid them. But they work better than anything else, for the time invested.

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I’ve learned that in lots of other areas, the hard stuff that people avoid is what matters most. It’s what’s most effective.

I’ll give you some examples:

  • Productivity: If you have a long list of tasks to do, you could waste time checking a bunch of sites, processing your emails, getting lots of easier tasks done, running around from one meeting to another … and most people do that. But on that list, there are probably about 3 really hard things that you’re avoiding. Those are possibly the most important things on the list, and if you put everything else off for a bit to focus on one of those, and then the next one, you’re going to see a world of difference. You’ll be doing fewer things but you’ll be much more effective. The hard tasks that you avoid are usually the ones that matter.
  • Fat loss: People do a lot of crap to lose weight. Tons of diets, the weirdest workouts, shakes and salads and and elliptical machines and kickboxing dance classes and calorie counting. And yes, if you can stick to some of these, they will probably work. But really, only a couple things matter, and by far the most important one is to eat a diet that’s lower in calories. And the best way to stick to that is to eat a bunch of mostly whole foods (calculate calories to make sure you’re in a deficit) like lean protein (I like tempeh, seitan, tofu), non-starchy veggies, a small amount of whole grains. Pile up the protein & veggies for three meals a day, don’t add other snacks and calorie-rich drinks (lattes) and you’ll probably see weight loss. I’d add some heavy strength training so you don’t lose muscle. So it’s pretty simple, but people don’t do it, because sticking to a healthy, calorie-deficit diet is hard. It means skipping the snacks and binge eating and work party food and all the other sweet and fried treats you’re used to indulging in. It means finding other ways to comfort yourself other than food and drinks. But it works.
  • Relationships: Building relationships isn’t always easy, because while it’s fun to hang out with people when things are going well, it’s much harder when there’s conflict. So while spending time with someone is important when it comes to relationships, having difficult conversations is often the most important thing you can do in that time. And that’s hard, because it’s uncomfortable, so people avoid it. This only makes things worse. Do the hard work, and have the difficult conversation. But try not to do it so that you’re right or so that you “win” … it should be finding a solution you’re both happy with. I recommend reading Difficult Conversations.
  • Business growth: There are lots of things you can do to grow a business (or your career), but usually there’s one or two things you can do that are hard but effective. For me, that’s writing useful articles that help change people’s lives. For my 14-year-old daughter’s cupcake business, that’s spending time perfecting her recipes until they’re to-die-for. Those things take hard work, and so we avoid them. We do all the smaller things and think we’re helping our businesses. But actually, we’d be better spending our time on the hard, effective, important things.
  • Finances: How do you improve your finances? Spend less, earn more, invest. Pay your bills on time to avoid paying fees and interest, but that can be automated. Those are the most important things, and they’re not always easy. So people put them off. But if you spend an hour finding ways to reduce your spending (stop shopping or spending on entertainment), you’d make a big difference. If you spent 20 minutes setting up automatic savings (or investment in an index fund), you’d make a big difference. If you spent 30 minutes paying your bills and automating them for the future, you’d save a lot of headaches.
  • Mindfulness: Lots of people want to live a more mindful life, and I encourage it, because developing mindfulness is one of the best things I do. But they don’t want to meditate. And yet, a few minutes a day (working up to 10 or 20 minutes) meditating makes such a huge difference.

Now imagine you took your day, which has limited time, and stopped doing all the little things.

Imagine you focused on the hard, effective things. You could spend 10 minutes meditating, an hour doing the hard important tasks that improved your career or business. Another 20 minutes having a difficult conversation, another 20 improving your finances. Another 30 doing two heavy barbell lifts. Another 30 minutes preparing whole foods for your day’s meals.

That’s less than 3 hours of your day, but you’d improve productivity, your business, your finances, your relationship, mindfulness, your health and appearance.

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You’d have plenty of time for the other stuff, but focus on this stuff first, and see huge rewards.

A Few Tips for Doing Hard Stuff

People avoid the hard things, even if it’s the most important, because it’s hard.

So what are we to do?

Here are some things that work for me:

  1. Take time to figure out what hard stuff you need to do. This takes a few minutes of sitting there and thinking, rather than procrastinating and checking stuff online to avoid this thinking. But it’s necessary. After awhile, you won’t need to think about it because you’ll know.
  2. Take a moment to commit yourself to doing one hard thing. It could be a bout of writing, a hard short workout, paying some bills. One thing, not all of them. Commit yourself for the next 10, 20 or 30 minutes.
  3. Clear away everything. Bookmark all your tabs for later, make notes on a task list for things you need to do later, and then close all tabs, all windows, all notifications. Just you and this one difficult tasks.
  4. Don’t let yourself run. Your mind will want to run from the hard thing, because you have an ideal in your head that life will be comfortable and easy and pleasant. This ideal obviously isn’t reality, because putting off the hard things by focusing on the easy and pleasant only makes your life harder and more uncomfortable over time. So focus on the hard thing, see your mind wanting to run, then don’t run.
  5. Enjoy it. Lifting a heavy barbell is super hard. I love it. It feels like I’m super strong, like I’m accomplishing something great, like I can conquer the world. You can get the same kinds of feelings from any hard task — instead of thinking about how it sucks, think about how amazing it is that you can move something so heavy. And be grateful when you can.

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Last Updated on April 22, 2021

How to Work Hard the Smart Way: 4 Daily Rituals to Follow

How to Work Hard the Smart Way: 4 Daily Rituals to Follow

Habits are what sets an average leader apart from a great leader. We can argue that talent is the biggest factor; we may debate how the amount of charisma sets the two apart. Yet, if you were to show me what you believed to be a great leader, I can show you the habits that made her/him great. Great leaders have great habits and know how to work hard the smart way.

Developing Great Habits Is Hard Work

In my early college days, I had spent a lot of time learning how to play the trumpet. Playing the trumpet took time and discipline. I had some natural talent, but not enough to hide my lack of ability. My trumpet teacher was a man of discipline, and there was no doubt he had talent. What stood to me was his work ethic. He had to be one of the hardest working mentors that I had the privilege of working with.

One afternoon, I was in his office getting ready for my weekly trumpet lesson. As I was preparing, my eyes scanned the room and saw that there were quotes all over his office. My eyes rested on one quote that forever changed my thinking about my playing. It was a quote from my high school basketball coach Tim Notke that would become popular through professional athletes Kevin Durant and Tim Tebow:

“Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.”

Hard work trumps talent. The key to success is not found in your talent or ability. Talent and ability are necessary, but they are not the primary factors. They are supporting roles in the story you are writing.

Ultimately, hard work is the key to your success. A good work ethic creates the momentum that propels you forward towards your goals.

Motivation Is Not the Answer

How many times have you seen someone go to a conference, get inspired, and then come home and do nothing?

If motivation were the answer, the world would have transformed hundreds of times over. Yet, when we look out our doors or turn on the news, we do not see a utopian society.

We have thousands of people who become inspired but lack the work ethic to apply anything they have learned. Time and time again frustration creeps in. We are so motivated and inspired by what we see but fail to put in place the things that would change our lives.

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Frustration happens when the gap between what you expect to be true and what is true gets bigger. Motivation tends to create an expectation that is not rooted in reality. We want to take on the world but cannot get off Netflix long enough to do so.

Motivation is not the answer, but working hard is. Good habits and routines that produce success are the byproducts of a strong work ethic. The habits and routines we create and follow are the foundation on which we build a winning life.

How to Work Hard by Working Smarter

Here are 4 routines that will help you learn how to work hard and achieve your short term and long term goals.

1. Define What a Win Looks Like

In football, a player that crosses into the end zone gain points. In soccer, a player kicks the ball into the net to score. Hockey, lacrosse, and basketball are all the same. The player takes the object and moves it into the designated area to gain points. The team with the most points wins the game.

Why is it that we can define what a win looks like in sports, but we fail to do so in our leadership, our businesses, or our homes?

Learning how to work hard without setting a target is futile. It is insanity to work hard without having a clear direction to place your energy. I would argue that defining a win is one of the most important routines that a leader can have. Defining a win separates superficial activity from meaningful activity.

When I define a win, I know the goal line I have to cross[1]. Knowing where the goal line is informs me of the activity I have to engage in to cross it. Without a clear direction, I am spinning my wheels hoping that I will get to a destination I haven’t defined. It is like asking a GPS for directions but failing to input the destination.

4 Steps to Define a Win
  • Know the outcome you desire.
  • Declare the outcome in specific, meaningful terms.
  • Write the outcome down.
  • Set your activity list to only do that which will complete your goals.

Let me give you an example. 15 years ago, I started speaking professionally. As a young and naïve speaker, I thought winning meant that I had to get a reaction from the audience. If they cheered, smiled, or cried, I considered myself a winner. The problem was my lack of understanding of what a win looked like. As a seasoned speaker, my wins look different.

As of today, when I speak, I am not looking for any emotional reactions from the audience. I win if, and only if, I clearly communicated my point so that anyone hearing the talk can take it and apply it to their lives that day. That is how I define a win when I speak now.

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Create a habit of declaring a win. When you do, you will see your productivity soar and your encouragement increase. Pairing a hard work ethic with wise decisions creates victory. Stop being a mouse on a wheel that goes nowhere, and start being the captain of your fleet.

2. Evaluate Your Activity

Not all activity is equal. There are things you must do, things you need to do, and things we can either give away or delete. The greatest challenge of a leader is understanding the difference. Understanding what activity is busywork and what activity is mission work is pivotal.

Not only do we need to learn how to evaluate our activity, but we must make this a core routine in our arsenal of success. Stop working so hard on everything and start learning how to work hard on the right things.

Not every activity will move the needle forward for you. In fact, you were never meant to do everything yourself! Once we stop trying to be a martyr in our leadership, we can start looking at how to take things off our plates through delegation.

Based on the Eisenhower box, there are 4 things that we look at when deciding on which activities are important:

  • Do now
  • Plan to do it later
  • Delegate to someone else
  • Delete it

Powerful questions are the way you discover if the activity is right or not:

  • Does this activity move me towards or away from my goals?
  • Do I have to do this activity or can I give this activity away to someone else?
  • Does this activity have to be now right now or can it be scheduled for later dates?
  • Does this activity have to be done at all?

Evaluating the type of activity you engage in should be a routine that you do daily. Learning how to work hard should create progress. Having a system of evaluation and a routine to do it will help.

3. Prioritize Your Calendar

If you were to show me your calendar, I could show you why you are not further along. When you lack the routine of placing things on your calendar, two things happen.

First, what does not make it on your calendar does not get done.

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It is a simple truth that is often overlooked. Your calendar contains the power to change your life. Yet, we don’t use our calendars to their fullest potential.

“You will never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.” -John C. Maxwell

Also, if you don’t mark you activities on your calendar, you are leaving it open to other’s priorities.

“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” -Stephen Covey

Having a routine in your life where you place things on your calendar is pivotal to your success. This is not a routine one should overlook.

It’s time to take your leadership and business to the next level. It’s time to start putting your daily routines on your calendar, along with your priorities.

4. Reflect on Your Day and Plan the Next

We are all about the morning routine. Whatever that looks like for you, there should be a routine in the morning that sets you up for success.

Hard work starts when your feet hit the ground in the morning. Creating the habit of winning starts with the first thing you accomplish that morning. If you win your morning, you will win your day.

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Best Morning Routine to Prepare to Work Hard

    But how often have you heard people talk about an evening routine? Tomorrow is won the day before it happens. When you fail to plan your day, you may put your effort toward in the wrong things. Route replaces routine. Indecision replaces decisiveness. Losses replace wins. The discouragement will deflate your momentum and increases the chances of procrastination. That is why we set our schedule the night before.

    “Every battle is won or lost before it is ever fought.” -Sun Tzu

    Working hard doesn’t have to be hard work. It shouldn’t take much out of you learn how to work hard as long as you work smart. Having a time where you reflect on the day and set your priorities is the difference-maker.

    Use these questions to reflect on your day:

    • What went well?
    • What didn’t go well?
    • What can I change?
    • What do I need to start doing?
    • What do I need to stop doing?

    The Bottom Line

    Navigating through life is hard work. Yet, the work doesn’t have to be hard when you work smarter. When you create routines that support your mission, you create wins. Working hard, the smart way will tip the balance in our favor.

    Boxing legend Joe Frazier said:

    “Champions aren’t made in the ring; they are merely recognized there.”

    Champions put in the hard work behind the scenes. The world recognized them as a champion when they saw the results of the hard work. Right now, you are doing the work of creating a champion in yourself.

    That work is setting your routines in order because you now know that success flows from your daily routines. If you are not experiencing the success you desire, then it is time to change things up.

    More on Creating Healthy Routines

    Featured photo credit: Zan via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] The Balance Careers: Interview Question: “How Do You Define Success?”

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