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The Productivity Trick Used by Nick Saban and Tim Ferriss

Why is that we all have only 24 hours in a day, yet some of us achieve so much more than others with that 24 hours?

The key to understanding this starts with realizing that your time, energy, and focus are your most limited and valuable resources.

The Value of Time

Spending time is how you earn & spend money, develop & maintain relationships, become more or less healthy. Spending time on something is the source of everything you have today – good or bad.

You can lose money today and make it all back and then some later. The same is not true of your time.

It’s easy to focus on dollar amounts because they seem so tangible and they are so visible. We see a bank balance, we see bills, we get a W-2 from our employer showing our earnings. We see where our money came from, we see where it went.

We don’t receive a statement at year-end that says, “You began the year with 8,760 hours, you spent 1,823 hours at work this year, you spent 420 hours with your spouse, you spent 311 hours scrolling your Facebook feed, etc.”

The hard thing about time is that it’s very limited. There are many, many things vying a piece of your 24 hours each day and most of them are really just ways to waste your time.

The “Trick” to Time Management

Focus 100% of your time, energy, and focus on the things that you can control. Spend 0% of your time & energy on the things that you can’t control.

The default behavior for the average person is to spend the majority of their time and energy worrying over things they can’t control.

News, sports, gossip, decisions that are for others to make, such as our bosses or political leaders. Yes, even mindlessly scrolling Facebook on your phone for 15 minutes is burning precious time and brain cycles.

In addition to lost time & energy, these things we can’t control (politics, sports, etc.) can cause us stress. Stress further damages our ability to be productive and makes us unhappy.

When we focus on things we can control, we feel empowered. When we focus on things we can’t control, we feel powerless.

The lesson that high performers teach us is that those who tune out the distractions and get focused can achieve amazing results. When you dig into high performers and their habits, laser-like focus is the most commonly shared behavior among all different types of high performers.

Why do high performers achieve more in 24 hours than the average person?

  1. They “create” time & energy for themselves by not wasting their limited time & energy on things that they can’t control. They aren’t wasting an hour a day (365 hours per year – feels a little different when you look at the year number) on Facebook.
  2. Because they are focused 100% on the things that they control, they develop a mindset of confidence. They don’t feel like helpless bystanders watching other people do things. This makes them more prone to take action (click here for more on the power of taking action) in the future.

Diverse Example #1 – Zen California Entrepreneur

Author Tim Ferriss details this “focus” philosophy in his book, The Four-Hour Workweek. This idea is, in many ways, the core idea in Ferriss’ productivity system.

Ferriss encourages avoidance of media which has no impact on your goals. To have good ideas and to be productive, we must “turn down the noise”, Ferriss warns us. Ferriss was warning us of this way back in 2008, the noise has only cranked up in the 10+ years since 2008.

Diverse Example #2 – Hard-Driving Southern Football Coach

At the other end of the spectrum from author/entrepreneur Ferriss, we have University of Alabama Football Coach Nick Saban.

Focusing only on what you can control is the cornerstone of the system that Saban calls “The Process”. The Process has netted Saban multiple national championships and has made Alabama into the most dominant college football dynasty in decades.

The only media consumed by Saban is 10 minutes of the Weather Channel each morning while having coffee with this wife. When asked about the 2016 Presidential Election the day after the election, Saban answered that he “didn’t even know that yesterday was Election Day”. He didn’t appear to be joking. It’s not a coincidence that this was in the middle of football season.

Saban is also the same man who, in 2006, famously skipped dinner with President George W. Bush because his Dolphins team had practice (not a game) that night.

Saban continually coaches his players to think only about the current play, the present moment. He tells them not to think about what the score is or what the outcome of the game is. For Saban, it is all about complete and total focus only on what you can control at this very moment.

The Power of Focus

In Ryan Holiday’s words in The Obstacle is the Way:

Focusing exclusively on what is in our power magnifies and enhances our power. But, every ounce of energy directed at things we can’t actually influence is wasted… So much power – ours and other people’s – is frittered away in this manner.

What are the things you can can control? “Our emotions, our judgments, our creativity, our attitude, our perspective, our desires, our decisions, our determination” according to Holiday.

The things you can’t control? Who is President, who won the Broncos game, what Kim Kardashian did today. Quit opening the news app. Unfollow those noisy folks on Facebook that are going on and on about these things. Turn off notifications for non-essential apps.

There are less obvious things we can’t control that can sap our time & energy. You can’t control if the customer accepts your proposal. You can only control giving the best proposal possible. If you are part of a team pursuing a goal, you can’t always control if your team achieves the goal or not. But, you can control whether or not you gave your best effort.

Even in your own life, you can only control your end of the deal. Focus your time and energy on that. Focus in on the things that you can control. Leave the rest. Simple, but, by no means easy.

Eliminate Distraction, Focus In

Your career, your family, your friends, your dreams, your happiness and fulfillment are the things that deserve your time and energy.

The events that our society watches from afar and talks endlessly about will only waste your time and energy away. The same goes for burning time and energy worrying over the choices that are up to others to make.

If you tune these things out and focus 100% on what you can control, you will seem unusual to many people. But, those who are the most successful always seem unusual to everyone else.

We used the above images in accordance with the Wikimedia Commons license.

Use Your Email Inbox as a Todo List

This is the simplest way that I have found to track todos sent to you in email. This tweak to how you use your email inbox will ensure that an important task in an email never slips through the cracks again and will boost your peace of mind and productivity.

I’ve been told by a number of friends & clients that this is my best productivity tip because it’s so simple to enact and a very high return on investment.

How to Manage Your Inbox

It’s really pretty simple. Just like it says in the title, just use your email inbox as a todo list. Don’t leave a message in your email inbox unless an action needs to be taken with the email. This is the key.

Everything that needs no further action taken is archived or moved to a different folder. At any given time, only a handful of emails should be in your inbox and you should be able to scroll just a little bit and see your entire inbox contents and get a feel for actions you need to take.

Now let’s look at how it works from a very tactical level.

First Steps – Setup

Use Archive to remove email messages instead of Delete. If you are using Gmail, you probably doing this already. If you are using something else, you may not.

You will be much more confident in clearing & managing your inbox if you know that a message moved out of the inbox is not gone forever, it’s moved to your Archive. You can use your email’s Archive function (Gmail moves messages to ‘All Mail’) or you can just move messages to a folder of your choosing. But, use Archive to get rid of messages instead of deleting them. Worst case, you can always search and find the message again one day.

Make sure to set your smartphone 0r tablet to Archive as well as your desktop client (again, default for most Gmail clients).

Create 3 email folders in addition to your Inbox:

  • To Do
  • Follow Up
  • To Read Someday

We will cover the use of these below.

Some Basic Processing Rules for Messages

Now we are ready to get started. There are really only 6 statuses of messages that can occur. The processing guidelines for all 6 of them are below.

  1. If you have not read an email and never plan to, archive it immediately.
  2. If you have not read an email and aren’t sure when you will (i.e. it’s not time-sensitive, maybe a newsletter or article), then move it to the”To Read Someday” folder. Can crack this folder open while waiting in a doctor’s office one day.
  3. If you have not read an email and plan to do so soon, leave it in your inbox.
  4. If you have read an email and action needs to be taken on the message, leave it in your inbox until you complete the action. When an action is a week or more in the future, then you can, optionally, move the message to the “To Do” folder to cut down on clutter in the inbox, but, this is up to you.
  5. If you have read an email and no action needs to be taken, however, you may need to follow up, move the message immediately to the “Follow Up” folder.
  6. If you have read an email and no action needs to be taken or the action has already been completed, archive it or, if you feel that followup might be needed (i.e. you asked someone to do something and want to make sure that they do it), move the message to the “Follow Up” folder.

The Most Important Part – The Review

Hold a review of your Inbox, To Do, and Follow Up folders weekly. You will often fall off in managing your Inbox during the craziness of the week. This is normal and expected. You don’t need to stress about managing your inbox every single day. This review is your chance to catch everything up.

Go through your Inbox during your Review and look at every message that remains. Then take the appropriate actions described above.

If you want to finish your Review with a completely empty Inbox, you can move “action to be taken” emails to your To Do folder rather than leaving in your Inbox.

I like to do Reviews on Friday afternoons. This sends me into the weekend with the feeling that I have reviewed everything on my plate. Ever get all caught up before vacation and leave with peace of mind? Doing this gives you that feeling every weekend.

However, you can do this any time of week that you like. Use a calendar event or reminder to so that you don’t forget, especially while you develop the habit.

“This sounds great, but, I already have thousands of messages in my inbox that have built up over years. How will I ever get caught up?”

Declare Inbox Bankruptcy. Go back 2 weeks, 2 months, or any time period you are comfortable with and Archive every email before that point. You can use some kind of “Select All” function to get this done quickly.

This gives you a manageable collection of emails to work through from the past few weeks. Most of those old emails are either long since dealt with or it’s too late to act on them anyway.

If you really want to make sure nothing slips through, also send an email to your contact saying:

My email inbox has become unmanageable due to a high volume of email and I have archived many of my old emails. If you are waiting on something from me and haven’t heard back, please send me another email. I’ve adopted a new email management system and I will make 100% sure that your request is processed this time.

All the best,

Trey

Bonus Tip – consider turning off notifications for new emails, as detailed in this post about how Notifications are probably silently killing your productivity.

Are You Losing Time & Money to your Smartphone?

Do you ever pick up your smartphone for a specific purpose and get distracted by notifications?

The unread app notification that is staring you in the face can be impossible to resist. Next thing you know, you open the app. Then, you’re scrolling through the News Feed. 15 minutes, 10 cat videos, and 20 political posts later, you realize you never did what you intended to. That is, if you are lucky enough to remember that you set out to do something at all.

This repeating process costs minutes or even hours of possible productive time per day every day. If it happens often enough enough, you may never get enough momentum to hit peak performance at all in a given day.

3 main negative impacts to your productivity:

  • Lost time – Facebook says that its average user spends 50 minutes per day on the site. That’s fine if you want to spend that long each day on the site, but, do you? Notifications are social media apps’ best way to “suck users in” throughout the day. All those “free” apps from multi-billion-dollar companies weren’t built for charity… those apps were built because they employ the smartest experts at gaining your attention and reselling it to advertisers. Do you have a spare 50 minutes today?
  • Lost thoughts & momentum – When a notification breaks up your thought process, an important thought can be lost. The thought might be a gift idea for your spouse, a text you meant to send your dad, an idea for your business. Or maybe you just finally had real momentum on that big project. But, your mind took off in a totally different direction when you saw that notification. It can take minutes, hours, or days to find your way to back your momentum or your lost thought.
  • Your entire state of mind can get derailed – In some cases, you read stories – political, religious, tragic stories, etc. – that can really mess up your frame of mind for being productive at all by making you angry, sad, or frustrated. This can cost you hours of peak productive time.

So what to do?

Turn off notifications for Facebook, other social media like Twitter and Snapchat, and other non time-sensitive “time spenders” like News and Reddit. Check these apps on a schedule. Aim to only check them 2 to 3 times per day. Lunchtime and after dinner are good times for this.

What notifications should I leave on?

For an app to be able to notify you, its notifications should meet all 3 of the below criteria:

  • Actionable – Will you act on the information from this notification?
  • Time Sensitive – Will you have a time constraint on the action you would take?
  • Important – If you ignored this notification, what happens? A day from now? A month from now? 6 months from now? Anything?

Important information that is neither actionable nor time-sensitive can be reviewed at any time so check it on its own schedule.

Non-important information can always wait. Your productivity and focus are your most important assets and shouldn’t be sacrificed for matters that are not truly important.

Save your notifications for activities that meet all 3 criteria above – Actionable, Time-Sensitive, and Important.

Questions and Objections

“What if I don’t see Notification XYZ for several hours? Won’t that cause me problems?”

There is very little on social media or news apps that can’t wait for a few hours. “Breaking” news almost never requires action by you. You can wait a few hours and get the complete story at your leisure. There is no need to be interrupted from the task at hand to learn about the nonessential happening elsewhere.

“You didn’t include email as a “must” in your app list”

Email is a non-priority method of communication for most of us. It’s sometimes important, but, it’s usually not that time-sensitive. I can pretty much always deal with an email tomorrow and it’s fine. A large portion of email isn’t really actionable. Email is also, by far, the most “spammy” application that most of us have. So, I turned email notifications off. I check email a handful of times per day, but, I don’t let it interrupt what I’m doing.

Related: You might also enjoy my post on how to use your email as a todo list and save a lot of time and stress.

The Bottom Line

In my opinion, as a general rule, you should leave smartphone notifications on only for:

  • text messages
  • calendar
  • phone calls
  • reminders

Depending on your specific career, other apps may also qualify as time-sensitive, actionable, and important apps, but, probably not many.

Don’t let the nonessential distract you. Build momentum and focus and get things done in the best way possible without distractions.

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