How to Improve Your Chances for Success in Life

From Stan Hayward on Quora with an answer to “What can I start doing now that will help me a lot in about 5 years?

 

  • Keep a diary
  • Write down the key points of what you did for the day. This may be trivial, but it will show how you spend your day.
  • Write down thoughts you have for doing even simple things like buying something. This will show where your money goes.
  • At the end of every month do a summary of what you have done, and mark out things you have achieved for the month, or failed to achieve. This includes your income, health, buying items, fixing things.
  • Put a value on your time. If you assess your time as being worth $20 an hour then assess everything you do at that rate. So if writing and posting a letter takes half an hour, then it costs $10.
  • Give yourself short term goals. Write down what you hope to achieve in the next month. Then assess how well you did it. If you failed then write down why.
  • You need to plan your personal life like you would plan a company. Put a value on what you do, who you know, how much you pay for anything, and how much your possessions and actions further your goals.
  • Get rid of excess baggage. This covers items you don’t need, habits that are distractions, friends who you will not miss, hobbies that absorb your resources.
  • Mix with people who have similar goals to yourself.
  • Do not assume you will ever have time to do things you can’t do now or soon.
  • Learn the difference between Urgent and Important
  • Don’t rely on others to solve your problems. Try to solve all your own problems even if they can be solved with money or help. Learning how to fix a tap washer may seem needless, but it gives an insight into problem solving.
  • Find out how other people solved their problems or failed to.
  • Take an interest  in people. Success comes from knowing how people work, not how things work.

 

Uncommon Career Advice

From an anonymous Quora user with an answer to “What are a few unique pieces of career advice that nobody ever mentions?” Some of the best career advice I’ve ever come across.

 

  • Small actions compound: Reputation, career trajectory, and how others perceive you in the workplace can come down down to a handful of things/moments that seem inconsequential/small at the time but compound. Random Thought:Redwood trees come from small seeds and time. With every action you’re planting small seeds and these seeds can grow into something bigger (sometimes unimaginably bigger) over time. Don’t let small basic mistakes sabotage your reputation because it only takes a few small snafus for people to lose confidence/trust in your ability to do more important tasks. Trust is a fragile thing and the sooner people can trust you the faster they’ll give you more responsibility. Some Examples: Being on time (always) or early (better); spending an extra 10-15 minutes reviewing your work and catching basic mistakes before your boss does; structuring your work so it’s easy for others to understand and leverage (good structure/footnotes/formatting); taking on unpleasant schleps/tasks (volunteer for them; don’t complain; do it even when there’s no apparent benefit to you)

 

  • Rising tide lifts all boats: Fact: You don’t become CEO of a multi-billion dollar public company in your 30s based purely on ability/talent. Your career is a boat and it is at the mercy of tides. No matter how talented you are it’s a lot harder to break out in a sluggish situation/hierarchy/economy than a go-go environment. Even if you’re a superstar at Sluggish Co., your upside trajectory (more often than not) is fractional to what an average/below average employee achieves at Rocket Ship Co. There’s a reason Eric Schmidt told Sheryl Sandberg to “Get on a Rocket Ship”. I had colleagues accelerate their careers/income/title/responsibility simply because business demand was nose bleed high (go go economy) and they were at the right place at the right time to ride the wave. Contrast that to the 2008 bust where earnings/promotions/careers have been clamped down and people are thankful for having jobs let alone moving up. Yes talent still matters but I think people generally overweight individual talent and underweight economics when evaluating/explaining their career successes. Sheryl Sandberg Quote: When companies are growing quickly and they are having a lot of impact, careers take care of themselves. And when companies aren’t growing quickly or their missions don’t matter as much, that’s when stagnation and politics come in. If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat. Just get on.

 

  • Seek opportunities where the outcome is success or failure. Nothing in between: You don’t become a star doing your job. You become a star making things happen. I was once told early in my career that you learn the most in 1) rapidly growing organizations or 2) failing organizations. I’ve been in both kinds of situations and wholeheartedly agree. Repeat. Get on a rocket ship. It’ll either blow up or put you in orbit. Either way you’ll learn a ton in a short amount of time. Put another way, seek jobs where you can get 5-10 years of work experience in 1-2 years.

 

  • Career Tracks & Meritocracies don’t exist: Your career is not a linear, clearly defined trajectory.  It will be messy and will move more like a step function.

 

  • You will probably have champions and detractors on day 1: One interesting byproduct of the recruiting & hiring process of most organizations is it can create champions & detractors before you even start the job. Some folks might not like how you were brought into the organization (they might have even protested your hiring) and gun for you at every turn while others will give you the benefit of the doubt (even when you don’t deserve one) because they stuck their neck out to hire you. We’re all susceptible to these biases and few people truly evaluate/treat folks on a blank slate.

 

  • You’ll only be known for a few things. Make those labels count: People rely on labels as quick filters. Keep this in mind when you pick an industry/company/job role/school because it can serve as an anchor or elevator in the future. It’s unfortunate but that’s the way it is. You should always be aware of what your “labels” are.

 

  • Nurture & protect your network and your network will nurture & protect you: Pay it forward and help people. Your network will be one of the biggest drivers of your success.

 

Non-fiction Books Every 20-something Should Read

From Shane Parrish on Quora with an answer to “What are some great non-fiction books a 20-year old should add to his library?

Here’s 10.

1. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
Psychologist  Robert Cialdini introduces the universal principles of influence:  Reciprocation, scarcity, authority, commitment, liking, and consensus.  Sure you can watch the short video,  but it’s not the same. Buy the book. Why do you need to learn these? To  paraphrase Publius Syrus, “He can best avoid a snare who knows how to  set one.” After you read this book, move on to Poor Charlie’s Almanack.

2. Seeking Wisdom: From Darwin to Munger
The  last time I mentioned this book, Farnam Street readers flooded my  inbox. I’ll try to address the two primary concerns that appeared.  First, if you can’t find it new, just purchase a used copy. Who cares?  Second: Yes, it’s an “expensive” book. Ignorance is more expensive. Just  buy it.

3. Letters from a Stoic
I  came to Seneca a few years after I turned 30. It’s clear from reading  Seneca that he’s full of wisdom. His letters deal with everything we  deal with today: Success, failure, wealth, poverty, and grief. His  philosophy is practical. Not only will reading this book help equip you  for what comes in life, but it’ll also help you communicate with others.

4. The Moral Sayings of Publius Syrus
A  Syrian slave, Syrus is a full of timeless wisdom. Want an example?  “From the errors of others, a wise man corrects his own.” Here is  another: “It is not every question that deserves an answer.” Ok, one  more? “To do two things at once is to do neither.” And he didn’t even  know of Facebook and Twitter. You can read this book in under an hour  but spend the rest of your life trying to learn and apply his wisdom.

5. The Essays of Warren Buffett: Lessons for Corporate America, Third Edition
I’d much rather recommend Berkshire Hathaway Letters to Shareholders (alsofreely available), however, I recognize that most people would be intimidated by its size. In the Essays,  Lawrence Cunningham thematically organizes Buffett’s own words. There  is more than enough here to get a clear picture of the principles and  logic of Buffett and Munger’s philosophy for business, life, and  investing.

6. Cyrus the Great — The Arts of Leadership and War
Amazing. Cyrus was pretty awesome. His insights about leadership have “inspired great men from Julius Caesar to Benjamin Franklin to Lawrence of Arabia.” Peter Drucker called this book — Xenophon’s biography of Cryus — “the best book on leadership.” You’ll learn about Cyrus’ various campaigns as he conquers Babylon. While the story is old, the leadership lessons are as relevant today as they were then. Among other things “Xenophon shows you how to conduct meetings, become an expert negotiator, deal efficiently with allies, communicate by appealing to the self-interest of your followers, encourage the highest standards of performance, ensure your organization has the benefit of specialists, and prove that your words will be backed by your deeds.”

7. Letters From a Self-Made Merchant to his Son
This book has been on my shelf for over a year. I have no idea why. While the letters are over a hundred years old, they are full of timeless wisdom and practical no-nonsense advice to parents and wisdom seekers alike. Something I’m sure to re-read over the years.

8. The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers
This is the best business book I’ve read in a long time. Perhaps one of the best ever. Ben Horowitz has been to hell and back and he’s got the scars to prove it. He’s built billion dollar companies, mentored CEOs, been within weeks of bankruptcy, worked with some of the smartest people in the world, and started a tech company in the middle of the dot com crash. Through it all he’s found there are no easy answers. After reading it, I immediately bought several copies and shipped them to friends of mine.

9. The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives
A great book for me to read so soon after finishing Fooled By Randomness as they both approach the same subject from vastly different angles. Mlodinow’s book is a gentler, though not necessarily better, introduction than Taleb’s. After walking through some elementary lessons in statistics that even professionals get wrong, the book explores how our lives are more informed by chance and randomness than we think. Along the way he offers some tools to help us make better decisions.

10. Zen in the Art of Archery
The author, Eugen Herrigel, spent time in Japan after World War II and wanted to better understand Zen Buddhism. This is impossible to understand through books and requires an activity. He picked archery and found a Zen master who reluctantly accepted him as a student.  Herrigel, being a Westerner, sought rapid progress and linear improvement through technical mastery. This wasn’t enough and became self-defeating. To truly master an art it has to become an “artless art” where it grows out of unconsciousness. Thus archery became a path to greater understanding.

Of course, I’d also add The Prince and the Origin of Species; Two books people talk about all the time, yet few have read.

If you like reading you can see with What I’m Reading.

The Best Time-Saving Hacks

From Marius Ursache on Quora with an answer to “What are the best day-to-day time-saving hacks?

 

I’ve been testing and adjusting various productivity techniques for the past five years, read lots of books (most of them repeating) and here’s some of my findings:

It’s not about time. It’s about energy.

We try to squeeze as many hours in one work day, to be “productive”, but in the end everything depends less on time, and more on your focus, motivation and overall well-being (all of them linked directly with energy levels).

I’ve recently talked about my productivity techniques obsessions in an internal presentation at Grapefruit, and the resulting presentation is on Slideshare:
Productivity porn

Some of the key findings:

  1. Decide what’s important because in 5 years, 80% of what you do today will not turn into anything. It’s just busywork, no useful outcome.
  2. Sleep, food and exercise can help you triple your outcome, because they increase focus, motivation and energy levels.
  3. The 2-minute rule: if you can do something (like replying to an email, or a house chore) in 2 minutes, do it now. Planning it for later, remembering it, doing it in the future will take 5 minutes or more.
  4. The 5-minute rule: the biggest cure against procrastination is to set your goal not to finish a scary big hairy task, but to just work 5 minutes on it. You’ll find out that most times it continues well beyond the 5 minutes, as you enter a flow state.
  5. Seinfeld’s productivity chain: if you want to be good at something, do it every day. Including on Christmas, Easter and Judgement Day. No exceptions.
  6. Tiny habits (Tiny Habits w/ Dr. BJ Fogg), highly linked with the 5-minute rule, helps you create good habits quickly. It works, I tested it.
  7. Your memory sucks. Get everything out of your head, even if you’re a genius. Write it down in a notebook, put it in your todo-list app, on your phone, talk to Siri, I don’t care.
  8. As few tools as possible. I’ve tested most of the todo managers and finally stayed with Cultured Code‘s Things app and Google Calendar (iCal is ok, but Google Calendar integrates well with Gmail, my default client). It doesn’t matter what you use (pen & paper are fine) if you understand the next rule.
  9. Routine beats tools. You need discipline, and this means for me two things: I plan my day first thing in the morning, and I write a short daily log every day. This helps me stay sane, prioritize well, scrap useless tasks, and do what matters. This saves me hours.
  10. Pomodoros. That’s timeboxing—for 30 minutes do only the task at hand. Nothing else: no phones, email, talking to people, Facebook, running out of the building in case of fire. Nothing else.
  11. Always wear your headphones. You don’t have to listen to music, but it will discourage people to approach you.
  12. Email scheduling and inbox zero. Don’t read your email first thing in the day, don’t read it in the evening (it ruined many evenings for me), and try to do it only 3 times a day: at 11am, 2pm and 5pm. And your email inbox is not a todo list. Clear it: every message should be an actionable task (link it from the todo app), a reference document (send to Evernote or archive), or should be deleted now.
  13. Same thing for phone calls. Don’t be always available. I always keep my phone on silent, and return calls in batches.
  14. Batch small tasks. Like mail, phones, Facebook etc.
  15. MI3. Most important three tasks (or the alternative 1 must – 3 should – 5 could). Start with the most important first thing in the morning.
  16. Willpower is limited. Don’t think that willpower will help you when you get in trouble. Make important decisions in the morning and automate everything possible (delegate, batch etc.). US presidents don’t have to choose their menu or suit color everyday—otherwise their willpower will be depleted at that late hour when they should push (or not push) the red button).
  17. The most powerful thing. Always ask yourself what is the most powerful thing you can do right now. Then apply rule #4.
  18. Ship often. Don’t polish it too much—as they say in the startup world, “if you’re not ashamed of your product, you’ve launched too late’!
  19. Pressure can do wonders. Use rewards or social commitment. We’ve recently done this with the new Grapefruit website. The previous one took 2.5 years to launch. The new one took 2.5 days and we did it over one hackathon weekend (+Monday).
  20. Scheduled procrastination. Your brain needs some rest, and sometimes that new episode from Arrow can do wonders that the smartest TED talk won’t.
  21. Delete. Say No. Ignore. Don’t commit to schedules. I love the last one, it’s from Marc Andreessen, because it allows him to meet whomever he wants on the spot. A lot of people will hate you for this, but you’ll have time to do relevant stuff. Do you think you’ll regret that in 20 years, or doing something for someone you don’t really care about, just to be superficially appreciated.
  22. Fake incompetence. It’s a diplomatic way to apply the previous rule.
Categories: PRODUCTIVITY Tags: , , ,

Stupid Things Smart People Do

From Lee Semel on Quora answering “What are some stupid things that smart people do?

 

  • Ignoring the importance of design and style - When the iPod originally came out, technical people complained about its lack of features and perceived high price (“ooh, who cares about another MP3 player, I can go buy one at Best Buy for $50″ http://forums.macrumors.com/show…).  In the meantime, it was so cool and easy to use that normal people went out in droves to buy it.
  • Using terrible tools, and taking pride in their awfulness – Especially common with programmers, who take pride in using programming languages and text editors that have been designed by programmers, not updated since the 1970s, and never touched by anyone with a modicum of design sense. They believe that mastering arcane, overcomplicated commands and processes are a mark of pride, rather than a waste of time.  I will refrain from singling out specific programming languages and tools here, because smart people also like to get caught up in pointless flame wars about this sort of thing.
  • Following the pack – Many smart people often seem to be followers, probably because they grow up spending so much time pleasing others via academic and extracurricular achievement that they never figure out what they really like to work on or try anything unique.  Smart people from top schools tend to flock into the same few elite fields, as they try to keep on achieving what other people think they should achieve, rather than figuring out whatever it is they intrinsically want to do.
  • Failing to develop social skills – Some smart people focus exclusively on their narrow area of interest and never realize that everything important in life is accomplished through other people.  They never try to improve their social skills, learn to network, or self promote, and often denigrate people who excel in these areas. If you are already a good engineer you are going to get 10x the return on time spent improving how you relate to other people compared to learning the next cool tool.
  • Focusing on being right above all else – Many smart people act as if being right trumps all else, and go around bluntly letting people know when they are wrong, as if this will somehow endear others to them.  They also believe that they can change other people’s minds through argument and facts, ignoring how emotional and irrational people actually are when it comes to making decisions or adopting beliefs.
  • Letting success in one area lead to overconfidence in others – Smart people sometimes think that just because they are expert in their field, they are automatically qualified in areas about which they know nothing.  For instance, doctors have a reputation as being bad investors:http://medicaleconomics.modernme….
  • Underrating effort and practice – For smart people, many things come easily without much effort.  They’re constantly praised for “being smart” whenever they do anything well.  The danger is that they become so reliant on feeling smart and having people praise them, that they avoid doing anything that they’re not immediately great at.  They start to believe that if you’re not good at something from the beginning, you’re destined to always be terrible at it, and the thing isn’t worth doing.  These smart people fail to further develop their natural talents and eventually fall behind others who, while less initially talented, weren’t as invested in “being smart” and instead spent more time practicing.  http://nymag.com/news/features/2…
  • Engaging in zero sum competitions with other smart people - Many smart people tend to flock to fields which are already saturated with other smart people.  Only a limited number of people can become a top investment banker, law partner, Fortune 500 CEO, humanities professor, or Jeopardy champion.  Yet smart people let themselves be funneled into these fields and relentlessly compete with each other for limited slots.  They all but ignore other areas where they could be successful, and that are less overrun by super-smart people.   Instead of thinking outside the box, smart people often think well within a box, a very competitive box that has been set up by other people and institutions to further someone else’s interests at the expense of the smart person.
  • Excessively focusing on comparing their achievements with others – Smart people who have been raised in a typical achievement-focused family or school can get anxious about achievement to the point of ridiculousness.  This leads to people earnestly asking questions like: Success: If I haven’t succeeded in my mid 20s, could I be successful in the rest of my life? andAre you a failure if you are not a billionaire by age 30? What about 40?
  • Ignoring diminishing returns on information – Smart people are often voracious readers and can absorb huge quantities of information on any subject.  They get caught up in reading every last bit of information on subjects that interest them, like investing, lifehacking, or tech specs of products they’re planning on buying.   While some information is useful in making a decision, poring through the vast amount of information available online can be a waste of time.  They end up spending a lot of time gathering information without taking action.
  • Elitism – Smart people often use smartness as measure of the entire worth of a person.  They fail to see the value in or even relate with people who are different.  This is illustrated by the Yale professor who doesn’t have the slightest idea what to say to his plumber: http://www.theamericanscholar.or….  And questions like Am I an elitist to think that most people are stupid?

The 20 Minute Rule

From Evan DeFilippis on Quora answering “What small lifestyle changes have the biggest impact?” 

Note: bold emphasis is mine.

Twenty Minute Rule- Whenever I would come home from a long day at work or school,  I was so tired the only things I could find energy to do were mindless life-negating nonsense– television, Netflix, Reddit, Facebook, whatever.

Every night I would somehow find hours of time to do these things (despite being extremely tired), suddenly get a burst of energy towards midnight, stay up way too late, and then get extremely tired the next morning.  This cycle would repeat until the weekend, where I would stay up too late on Sunday, and be tired the following Monday.  Wash, rinse, repeat.

Several years ago, I replaced this nightmarish routine with the twenty minute rule.  Now, the moment I get home, I force myself to do at least twenty minutes of one of the following– write an article, read a book, practice chess, learn another language with DuoLingo (I try to do this on my phone, not laptop to minimize the risk of distraction), practice guitar, meditate, work on a computer programming language, or improve flexibility with stretching.  Customize the activities to suit your interests, but this should generally not involve any computers.

Once you get passed that twenty minute commitment, you will find that you have the energy to keep going.  Over the course of a couple weeks, you will have finished a book — which, for many people, will be the first time they have done so in a long time.

If you simply don’t have energy to continue past twenty minutes, or to even start the twenty minutes– GO TO SLEEP.   There is precisely no benefit to watching Netflix until you pass out from exhaustion, only to be tired the next day.  You need to make it a habit: don’t have energy?  Go to sleep.  Do have energy?  Spend it making yourself better.

Addendum:

The key to progress is recognizing that any forward movement brings you closer to your goal.  Humans reliably fail to set aside time to do the things we really want to do, and reliably succeed at finding time to do the things we know won’t make us better.

When I wake up every morning, ask me what things will make me happy today, and I will tell you: being with my family, eating good food, having rewarding, meaningful conversations with friends, learning interesting things about the world, going on adventures, and so on.  Now ask me at the end of the day how I spent my free time, I will tell you: Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, responding to angry internet comments.

Ask any parent and they will tell you the same thing, “I honestly don’t know what I did with all my free time before I had kids.”  The answer is you did nothing, and now you filled that nothing with a kid….and if you have another kid you’ll see that there is a lot of time you’re still wasting. When people don’t plan, they aren’t ready to take advantage of opportunities that avail themselves, and so they play Angrybirds and watch Netflix because it takes less energy than figuring out something to do at that moment.  I call this the “path of least resistance problem.”  To make ourselves more sensitive to opportunities that can decidedly improve our lives, we need to structure our routines to make the path of least resistance difficult.  One way to do this is the twenty minutes rule.

If we want to do something trivial, something that likely won’t matter in the grand scheme of our lives, like meeting a colleague for lunch, we will pencil a time in our calendars and get it done.  But when we want to do something important and enriching, something we know will matter greatly in the grand scheme of our lives, like writing a book or learning a language, we say “I’ll get around to it.”  We don’t pencil in the twenty minutes a day necessary to become the person we really want to be.  And so we need to challenge the impulse to relegate our passions and our ambitions to something our future self will do down the line.

How to improve the quality of your life

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