Command Your Time (Prep Week Day 4 of 5)

“It took longer than I thought.”

This is the sentence I am never allowed to say to my wife again. Back when I was a student, and we were dating, I was terrible at time management. Terrible. We’d go days and weeks without seeing each other because I was always working. I’d show up late after promising I would be somewhere at a certain time, and I’d always give the same weak excuse:

“It took longer than I thought.”

The truth is that you decide how much time you give everything.Even if you aren’t deciding on purpose (my problem in the old days). That’s why this week of #IntentionalPrep has focused on budgeting your time.

So how long does a task get? 3 factors:

  1. Priority
  2. Desired Level of Quality
  3. Current Skill Level

Priority

The more important something is, the more willing you should be to give it a larger share of your time. I’m willing to spend more time writing an email to my boss than a friend because it is much more important to me to communicate effectively with my boss.

Desired Level of Quality

I can spend 3 minutes or 30 on that email. Clearly, the thoughtfulness, clarity, etc will be better in the 30-minute email. But was it needed? Maybe a 2-minute conversation would have been better? This consideration determines what “good enough” means. My goal is to identify “good enough” before I start something and then stop working on it when I get there.

Current Skill Level

Your ability to produce work of a given quality in a specified amount of time depends on your current skill level. It takes me a LOT longer to score 100 points on a basketball court than it does for LeBron James: that’s why he will always beat me in a one on one game. This consideration should encourage you to scale the time you give tasks based on your ability. I know I can send a quick message in a minute, but I also know it’ll take me a half hour to email my boss anything important.

That’s it.

The beauty is that you can adjust. If you didn’t hit the desired Level of Quality, it’s because your current skill level doesn’t support completing the task in the time you gave it. Now you have a decision: stop working at the current state, or decide which other task you’re going to drop so that you can improve the result of this one.

That’s how time budgets work. Need help? Send me a DM and I’d be happy to 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.

How?

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.

“No.”

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

“No.”

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

“No.”

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

“No.”

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.

Except:

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,

“No.”

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

https://youtu.be/HGgSXzCcnzU

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!

I can’t wait for this semester to be over

… is the number one thing I hear in the halls this week. “I can’t wait for this semester to be over!” I get it. We’re all tired. A college semester is a lot like a marathon: an unrelenting hustle of effort that doesn’t really let up until it’s over.

But.

You get one life. One December 6, 2017. You have one less day on this earth than you did yesterday.

So why are we looking forward to it being over? I think we all need an attitude adjustment.

Why are we excited for the end?

  1. Classes are stressful (everything is judged on our permanent records, we have no control over what is demanded of us, conveyor belt of crud)
  2. Classes are hard work (and you can only work hard for so long before you give out. Ask John Henry. Willpower is a finite resource in the micro AND the macro)
  3. Life after finals looks nice (family, friends, free time)

So how do we embrace the present instead of enduring it?

  1. Balance. Stop putting off the other things that matter to you in the interest of school. You are a whole person and your family, friends, health, spirituality, hobbies, finances need attention too. You’re really unhappy when you don’t make progress in these areas for extended periods. You need to grow these Life Accounts to be effective.
  2. Essentialism. Greg McKeown coined the term to point out that we clutter our lives with nonessential hard work. A fancy figure that will be on page 47 of a report. Animations in a presentation that would work without them. A five paragraph email when two sentences would have sufficed. Stop turning half hour jobs into four hours worth of work and then complaining that you’re too busy.
  3. Meaning. Remind yourself of WHY you’re working hard. Hard work isn’t a bad thing. We’re not setting ourselves up for a life of clock-punching. We’re pursuing our passions, careers filled with meaning and purpose. You might not have a clear picture, but if you replace the image of fear and despair behind the fog of uncertainty, it makes what you do today feel a lot more powerful.
  4. Drive. Find a reason that you’re excited to do the work. You’ll work hard in life. Work on things you love and keep in mind that every experience is training for a powerful moment that you just haven’t lived yet. Love the hustle. Most people who reach the finish line wish they could go back. Ask the Broke lottery winners and unhappy multimillionaire athletes whose lives fall apart. Love the process, live for the hunt.

Hang in there. But love today instead of wishing it were gone forever.

Give me Legacy, not Luxury

I’ve been asked “why?” several times this week. Why did I start the Intentional Academy? Why do I wake up at 5am and work for free 2 hours every day?

Legacy.

When I first started, I learned an interesting lesson about #entrepreneurs. They love exotic cars and luxury watches. They have plans to be millionaires or financially independent by a certain time.

The desperate situation that most students face leads to a very sad consequence: an inward-focused mentality. When you have less than enough (or at least perceive that you do) you must focus your attentions on bringing in, providing for yourself. This grows into a longing for a day when you “won’t be broke anymore,” or “don’t eat ramen anymore,” or …

The next thing you know, you’re comparing yourself to the wealthy and thinking that the things they do and have are good goals for your life.

I say SCREW THE CAR AND DAMN THE WATCH!

Give me legacy, not luxury.

I wake up and write things down because I want to help. I make these videos every day because someday my children will be able to watch them. Someday my GRANDCHILDREN will be able to watch them.

I could get hit by a bus today and my son will have a library of love and wisdom from his father. Lots of terminally ill people try to do this before it’s too late. Here’s a thought:

We’re all terminal!

Do you have any idea what I would give to see what my grandpa thought and experienced every day when he was my age?

Do you have any idea how disappointed his generation would be in us!? We have the most powerful communication tool in the history of our species in our pockets. We have access to the entirety of human knowledge 24/7. We can say anything to anyone, without asking permission. We can learn to be and do anything we want. And we use it to send emojis and GIFs and gripe about #firstworldproblems.

I’m documenting the journey.

I’m showing you how I built my success. But I don’t measure it in watches and cars. There is a world beyond me. A world full of needs that only I can meet. And I won’t rest until I’ve met that need for as many people as I can.

There is a world beyond you. A world full of needs that only you can meet. Don’t rest until you’ve met that need for as many people as you can.

Finding Your Sweet Spot

Yesterday, I had a conversation with an amazingly talented student who will graduate in a few months. In an effort to decide what she should do after graduating, she took a radical step: a ten-day fast from tv and movies!

As she told me about her experience, she taught me an important lesson:

You’re not too busy. You’re too distracted.

It’s uncomfortable to be alone with your thoughts. You’re a complex person whose life experiences make you who you are. Some of those experiences were positive, others not. But your talents, personality, and passions are the result of your response to these experiences.

We find it much more comfortable to entertain ourselves than delve into our thoughts and determine what they mean.

Except that your talents, personality, and passions point somewhere.

The sweet spot. The answer to the question “what should I do with my life?” The place where you can make a huge impact. People usually start hunting for careers by searching for job openings. This approach limits you to what other people have imagined.

Everyone should take a break from entertainment and go through the challenging process of being alone with their thoughts. Imagine a future for yourself, and then figure out how to make it happen.

The result?

  • She’s going to create a job for herself helping high-schoolers land internships and explore college majors to find their paths.
  • Another is double-majoring in Outdoor Education and Psychology so that he can start a “Wilderness Therapy” organization that treats mental illness through adventure experiences.
  • A third (me) found a dream of starting a movement to show college students how to win at life.

You’re not going to find those dreams on a job-search website. Turn off the TV and listen.

Exception Season

You’d be amazed at the number of exception requests I’ll get over the next few weeks. I’ll be asked for project deadline extensions. I’ll be asked to accept unsubmitted homework weeks late. I’ll be asked how to make up for low midterm grades. I’ll be asked to create extra credit assignments (because nobody did the original ones).

I get it. All semester we want to believe we’re going to turn things around. The end is so far off. Until it isn’t. We see that final day of classes approaching and realize our chances to make a change are dwindling.

My goal as a student was to never ask for an exception.

You may feel differently, but the truth is that the reason you need an exception isn’t unique. You’re not the only student who’s poured a can of soda into their laptop the night before a deadline. You’re not the only student who’s working a part time job. You’re not the only student who’s ended a long-term romantic relationship. You’re not the only student who left town for the weekend before an exam only to discover their car wouldn’t start for the return drive.

How do I know? Because all of those things happened to me. Sometimes if affected my grade. My life turned out alright.

Two types of exceptions

  1. The genuine ones: you’ve been working hard all semester, turning things in on time, attending class, doing well on exams and learning from your experience. Then something hits you out of the blue and threatens to destroy that hard-won progress.
  2. The inevitable ones: you’ve been doing the opposite of (1) all semester, leaving yourself vulnerable to emergencies. Something hits you out of the blue but in reality it’s just the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

If you’re in group 1, then the exception probably isn’t going to hurt either way. But go ahead and talk it over with your instructor.

If you’re in group 2, you have reflecting to do. You may feel that this latest thing is the issue, but it’s not. You’ve been living all semester on the brink (think Jenga, one block before the tower collapses. Or Kerplunk one stick away from loosing all the marbles). Go ahead and talk it over with your instructor, but ask yourself what you could have done to stay out of this position in future courses.

You may think that your circumstances are different from everyone else’s.

You’re right. Except that the one thing we have in common is that none of us are learning under “ideal conditions”. We all have some mayhem.

Your life is always going to be messy. One of the big lessons you’re learning is how to be productive in the midst of this wonderful chaos. Learn to perform even when the circumstances aren’t ideal.

How?

By never asking for an exception.