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The Secret to Time Management

On 10, Jul 2014 | No Comments | In Productivity | By Daniel Kao

I’ve done a lot of thinking and experimenting with time management over the past couple of years. I’ve tried everything from unorthodox sleep schedules to different diets and techniques. I’ve read and listened to experts talk about time management and how to most effectively squeeze the most out of each day.

However, in implementing these various tactics, I’ve realized that I was seeing time management wrong the whole time.

Most people think of time management as managing your time, but a more effective way is to think of time management as energy management in a time conscious manner.

Under most circumstances, the goal of time management is to be more productive with the hours that you have. The idea of being more effective with your time is so that you can accomplish more.

Under a time-centered paradigm of time management, it makes sense to try to cram as many activities as possible into as little time as possible, using various lifehacks and other techniques to become more efficient. While there’s nothing wrong with this approach and it can easily be implemented to achieve a higher rate of productivity, it only goes so far.

No matter what time management system I attempted, I would find some days where it worked extremely well and other days that were a struggle to remain productive. It was a strange phenomenon that perplexed me until I realized that I should be managing my energy instead of my time.

Under an energy-centered paradigm of time management (or energy management), it’s about structuring your day in way in which you can take advantage of peak mental performance, rest, and leverage the highs and lows of the day to your advantage.

Instead of asking how much time a certain task will take, it becomes equally if not more important to also ask how much energy a task will take, and what the nature of the energy expended will be. That way you can plan the proper rest and recovery as well as lay out your day in a way that matches the type of energy to your state of mind.

For example, I’ve found that mornings are a good time for me to read, as I seem to process things the best between 1 – 3 hours after I wake up. I’ve also found that the act of reading in the morning helps jump start my brain into an active mode for the rest of my day. I’ve found that toward the end of the day is when I write the best code, so my evenings and late nights are usually dedicated to programming.

I’ve also found rest periods to take walks and clear out my mind have been extremely helpful in separating tasks, resetting my mental state, and regaining energy for the next task at hand.

Of course, your schedule will be unique to yourself, and it may even change as time goes on. What does your schedule like and how do you manage your energy?

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How to be More Focused and Less Overwhelmed

On 12, Jun 2014 | No Comments | In Productivity | By Daniel Kao

I was so inspired by Tim Ferriss’s post on choices that I felt I had to write my own. Reading over his post, I couldn’t help but recognize instances where I find myself deliberating over decisions.

I began to ask myself how I could not only limit the choices I have to choose from, but also how I could simplify and eliminate regret from past decisions. Upon reflection, I realized that much of my overwhelm when it comes to decision making comes because I have too many inputs constantly open.

For example, while sitting at my computer, I usually have anywhere from 10 to 20 tabs open on Chrome, some chat application open, as well as my email client and whatever else I’m doing. To me, this creates a gaping welcome to an infinite possibility of distractions and decisions to make. And even though I’ve done this practically all my life and am now used to multitasking with my computer, I’ve noticed that it’s contributed to my lack of focus making me seemingly ADD at times.

In a hyper productive culture, it’s easy to think that doing five things at the same time will make you able to accomplish more. And up to this point, this is still a thought pattern that I find myself engaging in all the time. However, the opposite is true. The more productive people are the people that have strong structures based on what they want to accomplish and laser sharp focus to achieve what they’ve set out to do.

While trying to simplify and apply the choice-minimal lifestyle that Tim talks about, I’ve identified two main principles.

  • Focus is a function of being single minded, which means limiting the number of inputs while you’re trying to output.
  • Focus manifests most consistently within a structure built on your passion and drive, as well as practical and actionable steps.

I’ve been learning to divide my activities into two types that should not be intermingled: input activities and output activities.

Input activities are the activities where you’re absorbing information, whether it be reading a blog, checking email, reading a book, listening to a podcast, etc. The point of absorbing information is not to be overwhelmed or merely entertained, but to give you substance to chew on before you apply it to an output activity. In times of input, be careful to not deliberate extensively on things that are not worth your time.

Output activities are the opposite, where you’re working on something such as writing a blog post, cooking a meal, exercising, etc. These activities are the ones that require more focus, and should be given 100% of your attention to achieve your best.

Of course, not everything is black and white, especially in teamwork situations where you must communicate while you work. These situations can be a little more challenging to focus, but there’s a balance to be structured in order to maximize efficiency.

Here are a couple ways to implement greater focus and division between input and output activities (I will be experimenting with these).

  • Turn off your cell phone for a day once a week to focus deeply on something you’re working on.
  • Limit the number of windows and tabs you have open on your computer.
  • Turn off push notifications on your mobile device.
  • Limit reading emails to once or twice a day.
  • Limit frequency of visits to social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
  • Set a time of day to read news, blogs, etc.

Have any other tips or thoughts? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

photo credit: Wi2_Photography via photopin cc

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Creativity is Not Quantifiable, Unless you are Creative

On 30, Jan 2014 | No Comments | In Productivity | By Daniel Kao

Creativity is not a quantifiable attribute.

The very definition of creativity is that it transcends quantity, making it a very real yet also mystical attribute.

We live in a world where metrics is becoming more and more prevalent. Everything is measurable. In fact, metrics are invading the personal space of our lives. “Quantified self” is a movement that does exactly that. According to Wikipedia,

The Quantified Self is a movement to incorporate technology into data acquisition on aspects of a person’s daily life in terms of inputs (e.g. food consumed, quality of surrounding air), states (e.g. mood, arousal, blood oxygen levels), and performance (mental and physical). Such self-monitoring and self-sensing, which combines wearable sensors (EEG, ECG, video, etc.) and wearable computing, is also known as lifelogging. Other names for using self-tracking data to improve daily functioning are “self-tracking”, “auto-analytics”, “body hacking” and “self-quantifying”.

Do metrics in our daily lives help us become better people or are we turning into robots?

In his state of the union address, Obama talked about statistics of the United States, bringing up numbers to illustrate the large scale impact while using anecdotes to bring human connection and emotion into the picture.

The amount of statistics that we have access to today is far more vast than anything we have ever seen before.

But as we’ve seen, basing things off of statistics can greatly limit creativity. Basing education off of standardized tests have caused the quality of education, specifically the ability for students to be creative, to tank.

I’ve always been an advocate for productivity, generating results, and making a significant difference, but I’ve also written extensively about creativity. I don’t believe that the two are mutually exclusive.

Being able to innovate a creative solution is only half the battle. The other half lies in the execution. The two are very different lines of thinking, but they go hand in hand in order to bring something off the ground.

Don’t let statistics get in the way of your creativity, but don’t be afraid of using statistics to improve your game.

photo credit: josemanuelerre via photopin cc

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On Habits

On 21, Jan 2014 | No Comments | In Productivity | By Daniel Kao

Human behavior is oftentimes nothing more than a collection of habits.

Whether it be everyday routines or reactions in emergencies, the pattern of habit can ultimately explain most physical, emotional, and spiritual behaviors.

Waking up in the morning and brushing your teeth is a habit (maybe it isn’t for some people), so is your response when your roommate jumps on you to wake you up in the morning.

Habits can be formed or broken consciously or unconsciously. Habits form because the brain is always looking for ways to take shortcuts and save time and energy.

Gretchen Rubin explains it extremely well in this presentation at 99u.

The short answer is that everyone has different tendencies to build or break habits, and understanding yourself is an extremely powerful way to understanding where you belong.

If you’re interested in learning more, I’m giving away a copy of The Power of Habit this month!

photo credit: ルーク.チャン.チャン via photopin cc

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Structures are meant for Serving People

On 30, Sep 2013 | No Comments | In Productivity, Work | By Daniel Kao

Structure is a two edged sword.

On one hand, children are graded and organized long before they can ask the questions of why or how, putting them in a system of compliance that they most likely don’t understand. People are often raised up into structures without having a complete picture of the heart behind the structure or what the structure is for.

But on the other hand, structures can be used as a resource to help people move forward. Many of the organized movements that had the impact that they did was largely due to the organization and structure of the leaders.

The purpose of a structure is to support the goals of the people. When people, become servants of structure, people limit themselves. They aim too low and succeed.

I’m sure you’ve met people who have told you they want to be a doctor, lawyer, or engineer. But if the profession is seen as the end, rather than the means, its easy to get caught in the rat race of serving structure. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be in a certain industry, but the value comes when you understand where your work is taking you.

Whenever people ask me what I want to do, I tell them that I do awesome. I tell them that I want to change the world and positively influence people’s lives. I tell them that I have a passion for connecting and communicating, and that technology is one of the mediums that I am learning to leverage.

Don’t serve structure. Allow it to serve you.

photo credit: ecstaticist via photopin cc

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Deliberately Reading Less – The Information Diet

On 29, May 2013 | No Comments | In Productivity | By Daniel Kao

Connection today is more powerful than it has ever been before.

On a daily basis, thousands of tweets fill my stream, hundreds of posts fill my feed, countless emails fill my inbox, new TED talks are uploaded, and all my favorite blogs have new updates. While the access to and amount of information is incredible, it’s nearly impossible to keep up with it all.

But the reality is that you don’t have to be up to date with everything that is happening in order to make a dent in the world. Being well informed has little correlation with the impact they have.

It’s tempting to want to follow every single blog and news source in the world to see what other people are up to. It feels good to know what has been done and what has not. But the truth is, it’s easier to listen to something than it is to do something.

The effectiveness of the content that is consumed depends not only on the content itself, but the space and context that it is consumed. Reading a news article without actually doing anything about it makes the news merely informative entertainment.

In designer’s terms, negative space refers to the space around and between the subject of an image or design element. It’s often the white or blank space that subtly adds meaning and significance to the positive space, or the subjects in focus.

When it comes to acquiring new information, the negative space between information that you consume matters just as much as the information you consume. The negative space is what allows you to process and synthesize your own thoughts about the content you are taking in.

There’s nothing wrong with reading every single business book in the world. There’s nothing wrong with keeping yourself updated with every blog post someone puts out. But there comes a point where you can no longer be merely a consumer.

Take time after reading an article or book and ask yourself what it actually means to you. Let the new ideas spin gears in your head and inspire you to actually do something. It helps to regularly block out input from information sources, and organize your own thoughts in the negative space.

photo credit: See-ming Lee 李思明 SML via photopin cc

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