Creating Systems to Reduce Your Stress

Ever had to think so hard that your head hurt?

I know I have. And it used to happen all the time. I was (and still am) a frequent receiver of stress headaches.

It is well documented that there are limits to our daily mental capacity. We have a mental decision quotient each day – you can only devote a certain amount of brain power to making decisions throughout your day before you go to mush, and stress begins taking over.

Having systems and structures in place can help alleviate the need to make unnecessary decisions throughout your day.

Most people already do this with things like their personal finances. Why receive a bill that you then have to take time to write a check for or fill out an online form, when you can set it up to automatically withdraw the necessary money from your account for you? It’s a no-brainer really. It eliminates the mental decision for you, and you can now use that time in some other more productive fashion, with the peace of mind in knowing that your finances are taken care of.

This same approach can be used for so many other areas of life, and the following are various strategies I have put in place for myself to eliminate unnecessary mental stress and generally make myself a happier and more productive person in general. Hopefully some of these can serve as ideas for systematizing your own life:

Personal Finance

As I mentioned above, personal finance is one of the easiest areas to systematize in your life. Personally, I have as many bills as possible set for auto-pay, as well as deposits into my savings and investment accounts.

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The Routine That Got Me Through Grad School

Grad school is a far different beast than undergrad.

Time is short, your to-do list is long. Can you party? Sure. Five days a week? Not advisable.

Particularly in business school, you’ve been working for some time before returning to change gears into a new career. But so have your peers, and so you must bring a focus and determination to succeed that is not always existent in undergrad.

You are only on campus for a couple of years (in my case, only one), and so you want to make the most of it. Classes, clubs, networking, social events, job hunting – there is only so much time in the day, and you’re pressed to use it in the best way possible.

For me, I found that you can’t just manage your time. I had to prioritize, and streamline it to my own personality and psychology to make sure I was as effective with my time as possible.

Some people have the ability to freestyle; to take on projects as they go throughout their day, work on multiple projects at once, and still get things done and retire at night in relative peace. I do not count myself among those blessed individuals.

If you are one of the aforementioned freestylers, this is not a post for you. I love routine. As an introvert and an engineer, I’m a proponent of systems. Optimizing my day to reduce mental fatigue and making sure I’m sticking to a plan that I have pre-determined will get me to my end goals. Continue reading

Your Glass is Always Half-Full

It is easier now than ever to check in on people you don’t see very often. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn; they all allow you to keep tabs on people. You can see a classmate from a decade ago move into the C-Suite, a childhood friend make a viral Youtube video, or an old flame put a ring on it. And this isn’t just limited to people we know. You can literally access anyone in today’s world. But this kind of access can have its drawbacks.

What makes it easier to stay in touch with and communicate with people also makes it very easy to start comparing yourself and your place in life to others, to start shopping around. This proliferates into many aspects of society – dating, job hunting, etc – but in the end you are constantly comparing yourself to others. In the context of this website, this is comparing yourself and your worldly accomplishments, but of course this also effects a broader spectrum.

This instant desire to compare, to compete with people you haven’t seen in years (or maybe not ever) can be extremely dangerous. You start comparing your accomplishments to theirs. You figure, ‘If they can do it, why aren’t I? I must be a failure because I haven’t done what they are able to do.’ Obviously, this leads to a very skewed, dark perception of reality. Yet we all still do it, myself included. Continue reading

Hustle Gang Over Err’thang: On Time Effectiveness

We all want to get things done, and we all want them done yesterday. We want action, we want to kick ass and take names. But very few of us do, or at least not on a consistent basis, and the ones that do get things done seem superhuman to us – how can they possibly accomplish so much? We write it off that they are special, supremely talented, have a team of people working behind the scenes while they sit pretty in their palace chair. And yes, some truly have other-worldly talent. But the rest are just like us – normal people, who are just incredibly effective with their time.

It is often easy to get caught up in the buzz of efficiency and productivity, of always focusing on doing things faster. But it is entirely possible to be extremely efficient at doing a task, but doing the complete wrong task. You have to be shrewd with your time, not just fast.

“Efficiency is doing things right. Effectiveness is doing the right things.”

– Peter Drucker

This is time effectiveness. Focusing on what is most important and getting that done in an expedited fashion, versus just getting the next thing on your to-do list crossed off (unless, of course, your to-do list is already prioritized, in which case congratulations, you can go ahead to the second half of this piece. No $200). It is a blend of planning and execution, speed and precision. It’s doing the right thing, doing it the right way, and being urgent in its completion. Continue reading

Analysis: Washington – A Life

Washington_A_Life_book_coverSurveyor, Farmer, Statesman, General, President, Father of a Nation. George Washington held many titles throughout the course of his life, but few in the annals of history can claim the latter. He is a figure of legendary stature, both today and even amongst his peers. It is well known that part of this mystic and legend comes from Washington’s stoic, calm nature (the book’s author refers to him as ‘The Man of Marble’), but there is a lot more to him than that. And that is what makes Washington – A Life (Ron Chernow) so great, and while I feel it was important enough to warrant this post. While it is a beast of a book (comes in at almost a thousand pages), it is a text  that should go on anyone’s to-read list who considers themselves a student of improvement and success, and who seeks to make an impact in the world. It is most definitely going on my Resources list.

The title of the text is very apropos to the subject matter, as this is a book purely on George Washington’s life. There is very little actual analysis in the book, even though it’s large enough to rival the Bible in density. Chernow simply relates facts and actions from Washington’s life, mostly through letters and first-hand accounts from the era. The amount of research and detail that must have gone into this book is simply staggering. But Chernow leaves it up to you to analyze Washington and draw your own conclusions on what made him so great. And because there is such a wealth of information here, its not that hard to do, and by book’s end you are left with a very clear picture of just who George Washington was and what it was about him that made him such a great leader. Continue reading

Do Nothing to Do Everything – Meditating and Reflection

How many times do you go to bed with a headache, completely flustered by the events of your day? Only to wake up, check your email, and have it hit you all over again. You wake up feeling refreshed and ready to take on the day, but then you check your email, or Twitter, or whatever else, and immediately let the stresses and concerns of other people hit you, and the headache immediately returns (or maybe you still wake up with all the mental baggage from the day before weighing you down).

In today’s age, its increasingly easy to get lost in the agenda of your day, to let the multitude of things you feel that you have to get done come crashing in on you and wear you down mentally. By the end of the day, you feel exhausted, but at the same time you don’t feel as if your getting anything done. Or maybe you did, but it wasn’t what you wanted, or wasn’t really that important to you. Part of this issue is setting proper goals for yourself, and time management. But the other part is just getting through the daily grind, staying committed to those goals when life gets you stressed out.

We all have the ability to fight this feeling. The ability to stay focused on what it is we want to do, no matter what gets thrown our way. This ability is MeditationMarcus Aurelius calls it ‘retreating to your inner citadel.’ Hosts of other successful people do this exact same thing; putting life on pause, taking a step back, and reflecting. You have to make time for yourself before all else, even if that time is only 5 minutes (as Tim Ferriss says: “If you don’t have 30 minutes to meditate, you need 3 hours”). Continue reading

The Process of Goal-Setting

Think back for a minute to when you were younger, and you were told by your parents and teachers about having dreams and goals. “You can be anything you want to be if you put your mind to it,” or “Don’t be afraid to reach for the stars.” And while the intent behind these statements is commendable, its lacks substance. Even as an adult, it can be hard to fully embrace the message when the idea remains so abstract. We’re told to chase our dreams, and then left to figure out how to get there on our own.

The problem is that life goals aren’t immediately tangible. The solution is therefore to break these broader goals down and make them so. Split up the end goal into more readily achievable chunks, and the path to achieving your goal becomes far more lucid:

Every duty is the completed sum of certain actions.” — Marcus Aurelius

As I eluded to in my last post, setting goals is not a one-step process. Its long, its detailed, and its iterative. You need a plan, a succinct strategy and framework for how to get to that end goal. Because shockingly, once you know where you’re going, you will find getting there a much simpler, though still arduous, process. One cannot expect to find El Dorado without a map. Likewise you can’t expect to run a company, become a professional athlete, or write your own book without direction and a vision of how to get there.

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To Move a Foot, or a Mile

To kick off the new year, I wanted to talk about possibly the most important tool I picked up during the past year: goal-setting. I know it is a bit delayed, being half-way through the first month, but I believe the art (yes, art) of projecting into the future to set your current path is timeless, and is really applicable at any point in the year.

I’m not much of a resolution man. I learned long ago that, like most people, I would find myself picking up the pieces of my shattered intentions by at least March every year. But like I said before, any time is a good time to sit down and assess your progress, and looking forward and setting goals for yourself is certainly more opportune with the mental fresh start of a new year. Also, holidays are often a great time to re-balance oneself around friends and family, with extra time away from your school or office.

Like I mentioned before, goal setting is perhaps the single most important tool I learned over the course of last year, and thats saying something, because tools make up practically 85% of business school. There are two distinct reasons for its effectiveness: Continue reading

Lessons Learned – 2014

Time for the What-I-Learned-This-Year post. 2014 is going to go down in my personal history vaults as the Year of Awakening. It was a year in which I finally seized upon my inner ambitions, and committed myself to following my passions and achieving something greater in my life.

I started the year working at a job that I had no interest in, and am finishing it half-way through Grad school. In between, there were so many things that I learned and became aware of that I either was blind to before or was simply ignorant on. I finally realized that the life I wanted for myself was not going to simply come to me through wishes and good will, and in making that realization and acting upon it, I set in motion a chain of events that will hopefully change my life course permanently and for the better. The jury is still out, but here’s to my high hopes.

As my eyes became opened to more of the world around me and what it would take to actually accomplish my dreams, I became aware of how little I truly knew. And so the bulk of this year has been spent simply establishing a base of knowledge, work ethic, life principles, and habits that I hope to build the rest of my life on (at least for the foreseeable future, nothing lasts forever). Some of these nuggets include: Continue reading

5 Impact Reads of 2014

With 2014 winding to a close in the coming weeks, I wanted to take the time to list my top 5 books from this past year. As I’ve stated before, 2014 has been a big paradigm shift for me in how I view the world and my place in it. And books have been a key catalyst in enacting this change.

I started off the year with the goal of reading 10 books. While that may seem modest, and by most accounts, it is (check Ryan Holiday or Tim Ferriss. Its ridiculous), to me this was a big jump forward in making the effort to read regularly and often. I took stock of recommended book lists from seemingly every business or thought leader, and just dove in.

I ended up reaching 18 books this year, so paring this down to five is not as difficult a task as I initially thought, although I am looking to up the difficulty curve on myself next year by shooting for 40. Going to get a lot of run out of the Audible app on my phone, which is really great for long drives or any form of travel.

Last thing to note, at this point in my life I am more focused on breadth over depth, building a knowledge and philosophical base from which to build upon as I move throughout my life. These books are a snapshot of where I am in life right now, and what was most meaningful to me, not simply the best 5 books I read. In no particular order:

The Goal – Just wrote up a review on this one you can check out, but in summary, 1) Don’t take old assumptions at face value. The world is constantly evolving, our thinking should mirror that. 2) Identify your goal, and align everything you do to that goal. If something doesn’t help you achieve your ends, its a distraction.

4-Hour Workweek – Speaking of Tim and Mr. Holiday, both make an appearance here. This book, by Tim Ferriss, is a book that in my opinion needs to be taken in from a distance. Dig out the key concepts laid out, not all the shiny details and promises of easy money. The core of this book is to first go after what you really want, and effectiveness is the tool to get you there. Not efficiency, but effectiveness. Tim is a big proponent of the Pareto Principle, and the first half of the book is where this really shines. Very easy read, and again, seeing the big picture with this book is key.

Money: Master the Game – Same opening line as 4HWW: don’t take this book as a prescription. Take it as a vitamin. Money and investing is not a topic I am broadly familiar with, but something I know is critical to have a degree of familiarity with. Tony Robbins does a great job of laying out some of the basic principles of personal finance and investing, and definitely pumps his shine into the book. Just use your own judgement and take some of the finer details with a grain of salt. Times are always changing. But a great starting point, without having to take any of the mind-numbing Finance classes at school.

The Obstacle Is the Way – By Ryan Holiday, this is a quick, but highly effective read. Ryan does a great job in summarizing the Stoic viewpoint, which is essentially that life is 10% what happens to you, and 90% how you respond to it. People like Teddy Roosevelt aren’t born great, but they become great through their self discipline in making  lemonade from the proverbial lemon. A great primer on the practical philosophy of Stoicism, a topic I plan on really delving into in the coming year.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking – This one might go down as the best book I’ve ever read. Being a functioning introvert myself, this was a quake book for me, one that totally shattered any preconceived notions I held on introversion, and how I dealt with it. A more detailed review will be soon to come, but Susan Cain knocks this one out of the park. A must read for anyone who often finds themselves on the quieter side of life, and still highly recommended for the social butterflies, as Susan addresses not only the discrepancies between introversion/extroversion, but how to understand the other side and co-exist. Not everyone is meant to be highly vocal, and not everyone that is highly vocal is meant to be a leader. Can’t speak highly enough of this book.

But there you have it, my personal top 5 books of the year. Share your thoughts or any books that impacted you that I should look into for next year down below, or you can always reach me at pursueimpact@gmail.com.