What’s the most important thing you do? If you had to had to pick just one activity, what would it be? I have an answer for each of the major roles I play (husband, dad, professor…)

The most important thing I do as a professor is make concepts relatable to someone who’s never seen them before (I’m still working on the wording here). If I’m not doing that, then all of the other things that I do wouldn’t have a purpose. I wouldn’t meet with students for help sessions, or grad homework, or attend meetings, or mentor, or create assignments, or give exams, or adjust grades, or process deadline extension requests…

If I don’t teach, the other administrative activities don’t matter.

Yet the hardest thing for me to do is

find time to make concepts relatable to someone who’s never seen them before! All of those other tasks seem to fill my days. Why?

  1. They are smaller time commitments, so it’s easy to fall into the trap of working on 5-minutes tasks all day. It feels like progress.
  2. They are easier. I don’t need to dig deep and focus fully to do the administrative work.
  3. They nag. When your email is blowing up and there’s a line down the hall from your office door, you want to make it go away.
  4. I’m a people pleaser by nature. I thrive off of feeling like I helped someone. But the admin work gives only shallow help and a shallow reward.
  5. They represent open loops. Little things that must be done, and leave a feeling of stress until they are.

The result is that it can be hard to find time to prep for class, which is the most important thing I do. No one else can do it for me and it cannot wait. At 10:00 am Monday, Wednesday, Friday I have a lecture to give. Period.


I could fix this by trying to fight harder. I could put signs on my door to leave me alone. I could stop replying to email and let my students wonder what’s up. Or I could win a different game:

Once a week, Thursday, I hide out. I work remotely. I don’t open my email until my deep work is done. By forcing myself to put the other things off until the most important thing is done, I ensure that it gets done!

Let’s Trade

Yesterday I talked about “unlearning the value of hard work.” The punchline was that we overload ourselves with “good” things to do, when we should be more picky and wait for the “great” ones. Hard work is good, when it gets you somewhere. Otherwise, it’s a distraction.

We hate the idea that we can’t have it all

But it’s true. Right now you’re reading this post. You’re not playing basketball, cooking risotto, solving calculus homework, or preparing a speech. By saying “yes” to one thing, you’re automatically saying “no” to everything else.

People who win balance trade offs

Our typical response is not to say”no.” Rather, we tell ourselves “later.” We don’t put things down, we just put them off. And this eats at us and the people we interact with. We set ourselves up to disappoint everyone.

Would you rather have someone commit but then keep putting you off, or just say “no” at the start so you can find someone else?

Two things to do:

  1. Eliminate from your list those things that you should have said “no” to earlier.
  2. Tighten your criteria for saying “yes” in the future: Am I the BEST person to do this? Is doing this the BEST use of my time?

If you can’t actually picture yourself sitting down to a task, having said “no” to EVERYTHING else in your world, then don’t commit to it!

Unlearning the Value of Hard Work

The hardest class I took in college was graduate-level Thermodynamics. Thankfully, it was hard for all of the right reasons: highly intellectual, deeply nuanced math, complex subject matter. These days, many courses are made artificially difficult by ineffective teaching. Not this one. Dr. VonSpakovsky was excellent.

The first homework assignment reviewed the entire undergraduate course. We had a couple weeks to work through the first 14 chapters of the text and an accompanying problem set. Two weeks. And yet, predictably, I pulled an all-nighter to get it done before the deadline.

Here’s the funny part: I started the day it was assigned and I worked diligently every day! I didn’t pull an all-nighter because I procrastinated. Rather, it was because I was “doing it right.” Meticulously neat. Figures drawn by hand using rulers and French curves. Notes of explanation on steps that were hard to follow. I handed in a 48-page packet that was more detailed in explanation than the examples in the text book!

I’ll never forget the look on his face as I handed in my monstrous stack of papers (my classmates’ submissions were 5-10 pages long). I was beaming with pride.


That was the grade. A check mark.

Don’t get me wrong, he pulled me aside to tell me what an excellent job I had done, poured compliments on my hard work and effort, and gave all of the feedback one would hope a caring teacher would.

Yet, my grade was the same as the 5-page submission of the student next to me.

We’re Oversold the Value of Hard Work

“Hard worker” is one of the most common compliments we seek. So much so that we commit ourselves to tasks and opportunities that we have no business being a part of BECAUSE they promise to require lots of hard work! Many of these things don’t move us any closer to our goals.

I believe that most opportunities are noise. They may be good, but they aren’t great. Let’s stop committing ourselves to so much that we can’t be truly excellent at the few things of incredible value that we should be doing.

The Power of Choice

Welcome to the first week of the semester! If you’re like me, then you have some “new semester’s resolutions” you’d like to make. Maybe to be less stressed, or start homework earlier, or contribute more effectively as a member of your student organization.

Most resolutions stem from a bad experience. You had a miserable time during exams, and want it to be different this year. You pulled an all-nighter to finish an assignment and don’t ever want to do that again. What was it for you?

This is THE Week

When we look back on something that didn’t work, it’s easy to focus too closely on the pain point. We think about the stressful week, and try to figure out what we can do differently next time.

The problem is that the stressful week wasn’t the result of isolated events. Presuming that you work diligently, it was the result of making too many commitments.


We’re surrounded by pressure to be everything to everyone. Never pass up a good opportunity. Don’t miss your chance. Those three letters, Y-E-S are what caused your stressful week. At the beginning of the semester, you said ‘yes’ to too much.

So my challenge for you this week: realize your power to choose. You will be faced with MANY opportunities to join or commit. Pick the ones you take on carefully. Ask what every commitment adds to your life. Exercise your power. Just because everyone says ‘yes’ (and regrets it later) doesn’t mean you have to.

What’s something you can drop? Leave a comment and tell your story: how did you get roped in? Why do you think ‘yes’ was a mistake?

You, Inc. (Prep Week Day 5 of 5)

Today is all about mindset. We’ve spent this #IntentionalPrep week clearing out everything that had our attention last year, and planning our time for the year ahead. Today we’re going to tie this together with a critical concept:

You are a small business owner.

We’ve all heard that the days of the “company man” are over: no one spends a 40-year career moving up the ladder at the same company anymore. The typical person entering the workforce today will have 8-12 jobs, meaning you’ll be changing positions every 3-5 years.

This is a good thing!

You’ll get a chance to see new problems, new people, new perspectives. If you play your cards right, every move will include a raise that an internal promotion could never compete with. Let’s do that.

My attitude is that I am a small business owner. Tony, Inc. currently has one customer (the university that I am a professor at).

Why is this mindset crucial?

Because the things that successful small businesses do are exactly what you should be doing to win. Here’s how Dan Miller suggests a small business owner spends a 45-hour work week:

  • 9 hours reading studying listening gathering new knowledge (getting better at the job, keeping up to date with the market)
  • 15 hours creating content (packaging your work in a way that people can understand what you do, presentations, reports, etc.)
  • 12 hours working directly with clients (doing the actual job)
  • 9 hours marketing building brand and reputation (doing things that gain positive attention, favors for bosses and coworkers, practicing your elevator pitch, resume building, professional networking, social media)

Bottom Line:

You’re not just in the business of completing todo items. Leave out any of these areas and you’ll limit yourself. You’re in the business of growing yourself into success. That takes effort across all of the categories above.

You want to be doing good work, learning how to do even better work, and making sure that your reputation is growing.

Spend some time today online learning about starting a business. Even if you have no interest, you’d be surprised how much you can learn about building a successful life! Finally, map the tasks above to your situation.

Example for a student:

  • Reading studying listening gathering new knowledge = learning how to learn, manage time, plan projects, work in groups
  • Creating content = doing assignments
  • Working directly with clients = finding a way to use what you’re learning to work for someone, internship, tutor, research
  • Marketing building brand and reputation = networking, writing cover letters and resumes, blogging, forming meaningful relationships on social media

Need help getting started? Send me a DM and we can chat!

Budget Your Time (Prep Week Day 2 of 5)

As we continue this week’s journey to put the systems in place that naturally lead to success, we need to face a hard truth: you can’t actually do it all. Everyone has the same number of hours in a week, 168. Every minute that you spend doing something is a minute you aren’t spending on everything else. Today’s tasks focus on helping you make these trade offs on purpose.

This week I’ll be posting daily todo items for you to set up the systems that will cause you to WIN in 2018.

I’ll be doing them too! You can follow me on this journey on Twitter and Instagram, @TheTonyFerrar, and join the conversation using #IntentionalPrep. Share your experience, ask me questions, and leave a comment!

The Hardest Word to Say

“No.” This word is uncomfortable. The silence that follows it seems to last an eternity. “Will this person understand?” “Is there a way to change my mind to avoid dissappointing them?” “Maybe I can squeeze it in.”

Worse than saying “no” to someone asking us for something is saying “no” to a good opportunity. I work on a college campus, a place where a person can’t walk 10 feet without a new opportunity presenting itself: join this club, work on this project, do undergrad research, get paid to be a TA, meet your friends for lunch, join a study group in the library. How can we pass any of this up!?

The answer is to remember that moment from last year when you first consciously looked forward to break.

Odds are, it was the first time you realized that you were overloaded, overcommitted, and stuck. All you could do at that point was put your head down and grind it out, looking forward to the rest you’d get when break arrived.

This year, let’s try a new strategy: become conscious of the trade off, say “no” to good opportunities so that you can say “yes” to the great ones! This is the secret to a balanced life.

Today’s Tasks

  1. List your commitments from last year. How much time did you spend on them each week? Take some time to reflect on this. Are you pleased with the result? Did you end up where you wanted to?
  2. List your commitments for the upcoming year. What have you already agreed to? How much time do you need to do each of these?
  3. Budget your time. Write “168” at the top of a piece of paper. List your commitments and the time you will give them each week. Subtract from the total remaining hours as you go. Here are a few hints: 7 hours of sleep leads to 49 hours per week. You should spend 3 hours per credit studying outside of class. If you’re taking 15 credits, that’s 45 hours of study. Don’t forget to include time for eating, exercise, commute… and leisure! You’ll likely discover that you need to make some hard decisions here. Take the time today to make these decisions and commit. When you’re done, you should have zero hours left.
  4. Plan an Ideal Week. The best way to protect your time is to schedule meetings with yourself. Open your favorite calendar or spreadsheet app and start making appointments. First, add the fixed items such as classes or regular meetings. Next, schedule blocks of time for the other hours in your budget. Don’t stop until you’ve scheduled everything from your budget. Don’t like what you see? Go back to task 3 and iterate.

Don’t mistake me: you don’t need to live your life quite this rigidly.

But you do need to get in the habit of deciding how much time you’ll give something, and STOPPING when you run out. If you give an assignment 3 hours but spend 4 on it, you need to see that you’re taking an hour from somewhere else.

I actually make a new budget and Ideal Week every Monday morning. I update it a dozen times each week, and I constantly try to find ways of saying “no” to buy me more whitespace (room for spontaneity).

2018 is going to be incredible! Need help? Leave a comment or join the conversation on Twitter/Instagram #IntentionalPrep. Send me a DM and I’d love to talk with you one-on-one to help you get started!

Welcome Back! (Prep Week Day 1 of 5)

If your life is driven by the academic calendar, then today begins Prep Week, the week before classes begin. Even if you’re not on an academic calendar, this is the first full work week of 2018. Let’s make it count by spending a few minutes each day setting ourselves up for the best year of our lives.

This week I’ll be posting daily todo items for you to set up the systems that will cause you to WIN in 2018.

I’ll be doing them too! You can follow me on this journey on Twitter and Instagram, @TheTonyFerrar, and join the conversation using #IntentionalPrep. Share your experience, ask me questions, and leave a comment!

Crash Landing

If you’re anything like me, then the end of every semester feels like a mad race to the finish line. We’re juggling so many balls, carrying such a load, (or whatever metaphor you like for having too much on our plates). We buckle up and hope we don’t give out before the end.

I usually feel like Wilbur, everyone’s favorite Albatross from the Rescuers (watch here if you don’t know what I’m talking about http://video.disney.com/watch/big-landing-4c5987a6046a3366de4d0871).

Fresh Start

As we begin 2018, I have a goal: do more of what matters and less of what doesn’t. As @GregoryMcKeown puts it, “Less, but better.” I want to make massive progress in all of the areas of my life that matter most. This is going to take discipline and focus, which is what #IntentionalPrep is all about.

Let’s get the systems in place that will cause us to WIN in 2018.

Today’s Tasks

  1. Design a Morning Routine. My morning routine is one of the most important parts of my day. I leave the house fresh, stress-free, focused, and celebrating the fact that I already made progress on my most important thing. Studies show that high-income earners wake up an average of 2 hours before they need to leave the house. Let’s follow best practices. Waking up at the same time every day, starting with the same ritual, these things get your mind and body in a place of focus and energy. My routine, in 30-minute increments is: coffee and Scripture, read a non-fiction book, breakfast/get dressed, write for Intentional Academy. Need help engineering your routine? Read more here: https://www.tonyferrar.com/2017/08/22/why-i-love-my-morning-routine/ and https://michaelhyatt.com/tag/morning-routine/ If you think this isn’t for you, try it first. Give it one week and let me know how it goes!
  2. Clean out your workspace. How can we hope to make progress if we don’t make any room for it? Spend some time today cleaning out your desk, backpack, briefcase, email, and computer file system. Don’t let the open loops from last year continue to haunt your mind. Let go of 90% of them (straight to trash), do 10% of them, and start tomorrow with a clean slate!!

2018 is going to be incredible! Need help? Leave a comment or join the conversation on Twitter/Instagram #IntentionalPrep.

Stop. Whining. Now.

I hear so much whining about student loans. There are only two ways to go into debt for school:

  1. Voluntarily
  2. Fraud

If someone took out loans in your name without your permission, you’re a victim of fraud and need to deal with that through the legal system.

Otherwise, you signed up voluntarily. Even if you went to a predatory school that lied about some future guaranteed success. You borrowed money to buy a bad product. Learn from that.

We don’t have a student loan crisis. We have a personal responsibility crisis.

When I graduated, I owed more than my HOUSEHOLD income. Not just my income, but my wife’s too. The minimum payment was bigger than our rent! Two and a half years later? We’re within a few months of being completely debt free.

We paid every penny.


Magic: we lived on less than we made. You can too. You might not like what that means for your standard of living, but don’t mistake your preferences for an inability to make your payment. You are not a victim. You have power in your life. Excercise that power and earn the life you dream of!!

A list of things you should know:

  • I haven’t purchased new shoes since 2011 (other than my rock climbing shoes which I saved up for)
  • The newest tablets in our house are yellow and have lines printed on them. We do have an iPad 2 that I won in a raffle…
  • The most reliable computer we own is a $35 Rasperry Pi.
  • My wife, son, and I eat on $600/month. That includes any restaurants (lol), diapers and formula.
  • If we can’t drive to it and sleep in a tent, we don’t travel there.
  • We cook our own food on a portable stove when we travel.
  • I brew my own coffee (the horror!!). It costs me less for two weeks than a single cup from the ‘Bucks.
  • My family car (that’s right, we have ONE), was manufactured in 2005.

… the list goes on.

Even with these “radical” lifestyle decisions, we weren’t making enough progress.

So I took on extra PAID work. That’s the best place to go when you need money, to work! My current load is 1.5 times my colleagues’. Yep, I’m working half of a second full-time teaching job.

The point? You can do this too. You can do this too. You. Can. Do. This. Too.

It’s not easy. It’s not always fun. But you can do it.

I want so much more for you

It’s the last day of classes! You’ve got exams, and then break. Well done. However, the most important learning of the semester hasn’t happened yet. Whether you aced it, scraped by, or failed, I want so much more for you than “I tried hard.”

  • “I tried hard” takes away your power. It’s a myth you tell yourself, suggesting that your performance was limited by external factors.
  • “I tried hard” is an excuse. It’s a way of letting yourself off the hook for a result that you don’t like.
  • “I tried hard” focuses your attention on the results, rather than the process. It’s so vague that it values perspiration over performance.

Winners focus on the process, not the results

The most important thing you can do before you pack up and head home for break is reflect. Sit down for a half hour and write about your experience. Better yet, record a video of yourself talking about it. Here’s what you should focus on:

  1. How did you spend your time this semester? Estimate how much time went to the various categories in your life (class, study, work, social, leisure…).
  2. Are there areas that deserved more or less time?
  3. What did you actually do when you sat down to do schoolwork? Did you read the text book before working a homework problem? Did you make outlines? Search the web for solutions or forums?
  4. What parts of your learning process worked, and which didn’t?

And now the key: write down a plan for next semester.

If you start with the play-by-play of what you did this semester, you can usually spot the weak point in the system without much trouble. Edit that part. Next semester, use this as a checklist for action.

Congrats on making it this far! Spend a few minutes reflecting on the process that got you here, make some edits, and then crush your exams! Break is coming soon…

Failing that class was one of the best things that ever happened to me.

36%. That was my grade going into the final exam. Not even a perfect score was enough to pass the course.

And so I went to the professor to beg.


But if I fail, I won’t have the prerequisite for all of the classes I am supposed to take next semester!


But then I’ll have to take the semester off!


But then I’ll have to take an EXTRA YEAR!


What will I tell my friends and family?

Welcome to the 5-year plan.

I took the next semester off and repeated that single course, with the same professor. Awesome. I was furious. How could he do this to me!? Did he have any idea what he cost me? A year of my life and thousands of dollars! I’m paying those student loans right now.


The internship that I worked while I repeated that course was my first: it set me up for a successful career by teaching me professionalism, time management, balance, punctuality, personal finance, leadership.

I met one of my dearest friends working there.

Taking that semester off aligned my schedule with Justin, who became my best friend. We took every class for the rest of college together, supporting each other and encouraging each other to learn as much as we could. We also had a lot of fun and took turns as best man in each other’s weddings.

This also aligned my schedule with my roommate Chris. About a year later,

Chris introduced me to my wife!

I can keep pulling at this thread: the extra summer gave me an extra internship, which aligned me with the start of a new research project, which led to my senior design project, which led to grad school, and my career as a professor…

The consequences of failing that class? A job I love, a best friend, a wife who loves me for me, my son. I can live with that.

Every class I teach requires the class that I failed as a prerequisite!

Apart from the amazing coincidences (I don’t believe in those, theres a Plan), I learned something important. I learned what it takes to do college right. And I did it. I earned an A in that class and solidified my approach to learning.

Failure isn’t the end.

So don’t give up. Learn what works and what doesn’t, hustle, and try again! I had no idea at the time, but so much of my life can be traced back to that professor and the word,


If you’d like to see me talk about this, head over to YouTube:


This is a 12-minute recording of a lecture I gave on the last day of class this semester. If you’re new here, then this is the best possible way for you to get to know me. If you’ve been watching for a while, then I want you to know that I am more proud of this video than anything I’ve ever posted. Take a look and let me know what you think!