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.

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.

The Two Meanings of “I’ll Do Better Next Time”

“I am an Intentional Learner. I know that I will perform as I practice, and so I practice well. I am not waiting for certification. My results are my certification.”

“I’ll do better next time.”

I have an image in my head of what it looks like to do an amazing job. If I did my homework with excellence it would look a certain way. If I studied for an exam with excellence I’d be able to do certain things with the material. If I completed this class project with excellence I’d be proud of the result.

But we don’t always work with excellence. Sometimes we’re tired. Sometimes we’re lazy. Sometimes life gets in the way. And so we chase the outcome (good grade) without focusing on the process (learning something new, mastering a skill).

It turns out that you won’t do any better next time.

You can’t just visualize doing amazing things, you have to practice doing them. I can visualize dodging Floyd Mayweather’s right hook and countering with an uppercut for the knock-out… but we know what would actually happen.

If you practice mediocre, you will perform mediocre.

Meaning 1 (for wimps): “I’ll do better next time because this time I didn’t give my best effort and I knew it.”

“I’ll do better next time.”

I did everything I could to execute this job according to the image of excellence in my head. I saw this assignment as an opportunity to practice the skills related to a course, as well as to practice the art of learning. I saw this exam as an opportunity to test my skill at using the material in a new situation. I saw this project as an opportunity to create something amazing that I would tell stories about during job interviews.

But it didn’t come out as amazing as I was picturing. I know what I hoped it would be. But after giving it my best I have discovered that I need to improve my technique. I see the difference between what I made and what I hoped to make, and I can make a plan to close that gap.

Meaning 2 (for winners): “I’ll do better next time because this time my best wasn’t good enough. I will improve my best.”

Your degree doesn’t certify you.

Your results do. And results don’t happen overnight. You don’t go to bed mediocre one day and wake up excellent the next. Go practice! Go get results!

If you practice with excellence, you will perform with excellence.

The Intentional Academy is here to help. We’re creating content that helps you focus on improving your practice. If it’s helping, let us know by leaving a comment and hitting those “like” and “share” buttons!

Opening Doors

“I am an Intentional Learner. I may not know my dream yet, but I know where my current path leads. I am not burying my head in the sand, hoping that if I follow the herd good things will happen. I embrace the future I see for myself, but I hold it loosely. I am in the business of opening doors.”

The pressure to find and pursue a dream has gotten out of hand. Everyone loves to remind students about their “amazing opportunities.” We love to tell students “they can be anything,” and that “they shouldn’t squander their chances.”

Great points, and true. But it’s pretty hard to identify a dream worth going all-in on. Right now, can you name a thing you hope to do for the rest of your career? I can’t, and I am (statistically) a quarter of the way through mine.

The wrong response:

Throwing up your hands at the pressure to decide and just picking something based on what “they” say. “They” say that it’s hard to make a living as a math major. “They” say that engineering pays great and that an MBA will make you a success. “They” say that studying film is risky.

We live in unconventional times.

So stop following conventional wisdom. It’s pretty easy to pick a major actually. Open up a search engine and find out what people who have these degrees are up to 5 and 10 years after graduation. Can you see yourself doing that?

Don’t put so much pressure on yourself. You’re not deciding the rest of your life. Just the next part of it.

I always had a plan.

It never worked out. Every time, something much better came along. What I realize, looking back, is that my plans were what led to my success. Working towards something inevitably opened the doors I ultimately walked through.

So. Open lots of doors.

Try things. Make a plan, and work hard towards it. When you make a decision, do some research about where it COULD take you, but realize that “could” and “will” aren’t the same. Most importantly, be open to changing your plan in a heartbeat.

The Intentional Academy is here to help. We’re creating content that helps you take action and open as many doors as possible. If it’s helping, let us know by leaving a comment and hitting those “like” and “share” buttons!

Punching the Clock

“I am an Intentional Learner. I affirm that my ability to breathe does not entitle me to an income. My ability to create something that changes a person’s life leads to payment proportional to the impact. I am not paid by the hour, I am paid by the outcome.”

One of the greatest inventions of all time is the assembly line. Prior to its invention, products were made by skilled craftsmen and artisans. Every product was custom. Every product was (relatively) expensive.

The industrial revolution brought about a new paradigm that trained people in one process, one step in producing a product. A person can do a repetitive task quickly, with much lower error rates. The result is that things became less expensive to produce. While people remain skilled, few know the entire process. The goal is replaceable parts in a system: no product relies on a single person showing up today.

You’ve worked in a factory

Ever have a job that involved clocking in and doing the same few tasks over and over? Ever have a job that, after a few weeks of training, you knew what to do in most situations? Maybe you worked as a bag boy in s grocery store, or a cashier in a book store, or changing oil at a service station, or in the kitchen of the dining hall, or in an actual factory (all jobs I’ve had). All jobs that, once you learn the basics, required no further instructions and no real decision making on your part.

Did they go out of business when you left?

Of course not. You were a cog. An easily trained and easily replaced part of a big machine that was rigorously designed to eliminate waste and produce a product as efficiently as possible.

The problem is the lesson you learned.

In a job like that, you learn to do as your told. Follow the standard work procedure. Stay in your lane. Clock in, check the list, clock out.

Our world is changing.

We’re finding ourselves in need of artisans again. There is room now for you to work without instructions, to create something that impacts.

But you can’t do it with the “clock-puncher” mindset. And so the cry of the Intentional Learner: “My goal is to learn to add value, to create impact, and to expect payment in response. I don’t get paid for showing up, I get paid for delivering.”

The Intentional Academy is here to help. We’re creating content that helps you rethink your approach to work. If it’s helping, let us know by leaving a comment and hitting those “like” and “share” buttons!