“Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem. We all have twenty-four-hour days.”
I am starting this series with a lot of enthusiasm and interest as the following is the often-asked question of me – “How do you manage to do so many things despite a busy schedule?” In a way, the answer is contained in the brilliant quote by Zig Ziglar right at the beginning of this post but let’s get to the specifics.
All of us have a passion(s) in life and many a time that does not align with our profession. We are thus left regretting and longing for something we would love to do but find no time to pursue it. Is it a zero-sum game, this time management of ours? Is it that we are doomed to continue to do what we chose as young adults despite our heart wanting something else equally badly? Is the only option left to leave our current profession despite liking it, just because you want to do something else with as much longing? All of us want to write, paint, learn music, learn new skills, the list is endless, but how do we do it? I am not talking about dilettantish efforts at some pursuit on the weekends wherein you remain an amateur throughout your life. No, I am talking about being adept at your passion, becoming a maestro, while maintaining the requisite intensity in your profession. Tall order? Well, not really – read on to learn about the Power of Focus which will allow you to do whatever you want to do and more.
To begin with, why am I asked this question? I am in a job that is fairly intense and requires regular contact work. So, working from home is not a possibility in my job and hence when I am at work, I am at work, and that’s the way it should be. I have managed to write three books over the last thirty-one months – my first book was published in July 2018 (an Amazon Bestseller) and the third one is being published. Also, I write this weekly column, which generally is about 2000 words long. I also do a weekly podcast which takes a couple of hours to record and fine-tune. I meditate and exercise regularly devoting around two hours per day to this important facet. I insist on getting seven hours of sleep at night and normally get it. I devour at least three to four books per month which keeps me intellectually stimulated and provides me with fresh ideas for my writings and speaking. And yes, I also dabble in amateur singing on the wonderful app called Smule (try it, it’s great.) Though what I do is pretty normal, my friends still get fascinated with what I accomplish in a 24-hour cycle.
This series is my honest attempt to lay before you what I do and don’t do (the latter more important than the former) and how you can extract the maximum out of your day and indeed life. It’s all about the Power of Focus – prioritizing what you want to achieve in life and ruthlessly eliminating the rest from your schedule. I am not indicating that what I don’t do is not important – it must be for someone else whose life-priorities are different from mine, but for me, it holds no interest. Before we get on the generalities followed by the specifics, let’s begin with a simple example of writing, to highlight the Power of Focus to you.
The three books that I have written total to around 2 lakh words. Additionally, my weekly columns total to around 70,000 words (I started in Jun 2020). I also run a blog www.andysfinancial.com which is now not regular but there are 45 articles on that too totalling to around 81,000 words. Put together, I have written around 3.5 lakh meaningful words over the last 38 months (I started writing my first book around Jan 2018.) Obviously, I am not counting the writing that I do towards my official tasks because that is not relevant to the example here. When we divide the number of words (3.5 lakh) by the number of weeks (38*4=152; Jan 2018 to Feb 2021), the figure comes to around 2300 words per week. Further, if we divide this number by seven, we get 328 words per day. That’s all – just one typed page of writing per day, surely not a big deal, right? This is the Power of Focus, the power of Compound Interest at work, which has resulted in 3 books and more than 100 articles, all in a period of little more than three years, by a person who is into a full-time job.
This is doable, highly doable, and in this series, I will take you through the process which has allowed me to get my Wheel of Life in balance and extract the maximum out of every waking hour.
I will lay before you my schedule on a normal working day which goes as follows. I wake up at 5:15 AM, freshen up and do my 30 mins of meditation – please begin your day with this wonderful practice, it sets the tone for a beautiful day. By 6 AM or thereabouts, I am out of the house for my exercise – I walk or go to the gym for an hour on alternate days. This routine continues six days a week and on Sunday I take a break. I am sure many of you are following similar routines but what I do on my ‘walk mornings’, that is interesting.
I listen to audiobooks on the Amazon app called Audible or on YouTube (there are a plethora of free audiobooks available on YouTube.) The Audible app is also very user-friendly and economical with the facility to bookmark the pages that you would like to come back to. The wonderful books that I listen to and which are obviously aligned with my interests, trigger some interesting thoughts. I pause the audiobook and record my thoughts on the recorder of the Smartphone while walking. By the time I get back after an hour of walk, I normally have 10-15 minutes of my conversations with myself recorded on the phone recorder.
By now it’s around 7 AM and I sit with my laptop and a cup of tea. Over the next half an hour, after flipping through the newspaper for ten odd minutes, I playback my own recordings and make notes on the laptop. I have several Word Documents opened and saved on my laptop viz. Happiness, Leadership, Motivation, Financial Issues, Fitness, Productivity, Spirituality, and so on. My notes get saved in the relevant document, and if I have had an epiphany about a new topic, a new Word Document gets opened. By 7:30 AM, it’s time to get up and get ready to go to work, which is around 8:15 AM.
When I reach the office and till the evening I am totally immersed in my work, ruthlessly cutting out water-cooler conversations and gup-shup over cups of coffee. This laser-focus allows me to wrap up my work within office hours and I hardly ever carry work home. After my evening cuppa and conversation with my spouse and children (if they are around) it’s time to write which is generally from 6 to 7:30 PM. Evening meditation time is from 7:30 to 8 PM after which I have dinner – always with my family. After dinner, I read a book for at least half an hour before settling down to some conversation with my spouse and sleep. Normally I am asleep by 10-1015 PM – I plan to get seven hours of sleep which keeps me energetic for the next day.
Let’s do some data crunching. I manage to listen to audiobooks for around 13-14 hours in a month (while walking which is on alternate days) which amounts to finishing 2 books (a normal audiobook is about 7-8 hours of listening). My nightly readings, around 20 pages per day, amounts to 600 odd pages, which is equivalent to 2 books. This is how I manage to read 4 books in a month and mind you, I am not counting the Sundays. So far as writing is concerned, 90 minutes per evening amounts to around 9 hours of writings in a week – adequate not only to write my weekly article but also work on my next book (yes, it’s being written.) One hour of meditation and seven hours of deep sleep give me the peace, and energy to wake up fresh and full of excitement the next day. I will not get into the details of Sundays but they are fully devoted to my family, home-errands, recording my Podcast and singing on Smule.
This is what I do but as I mentioned before, more important is what I don’t do. Let me recount those activities which though important, hold no attraction to me and hence help me focus more:
- Newspaper – I am very clear about what readings are required for my profession and passion. I don’t waste hours pouring into the newspaper. What doesn’t interest me or concern me say, politics, I don’t waste my time on?
- Magazines – Except for a couple of finance-related magazines that I subscribe to, I don’t read any. A magazine article is at best a few hours of work by someone. I prefer to read or listen to books that are the outcome of months and years of research of the author. I would rather partake in this distilled wisdom than sophomoric opinion pieces on magazines and internet.
- Books – There are books and books to be read and for a book lover like me, every book holds a tantalising However, I am clear about what would I like to read – aligned to my profession or passion. If the book is not fulfilling this criterion, well, it may well be a Man Booker Prize-winning book, but I am not interested.
- Internet – I subscribe to very few apps and have generally fixed hours in the day when I check my emails or messages. I am sure if something is urgent, someone will call me. Similarly, I don’t read too much on the Internet until the forward is from a known and erudite person. Internet ably aided by your swanky Smartphone is a Black Hole in which you sink hundreds of your productive hours over just a week.
- TV– This point is obliquely connected to the Internet point. I don’t watch TV- there is no TV connection in our house. I have an Amazon Fire-Stick, which my spouse uses to watch her favourite serials. I hardly watch movies or serials. I know I am missing out on some wonderful stuff, but sorry, they are not aligned to my profession or passion, so I give them a pass.
- Sports and Pastime – I have never been a very keen sportsman though I represented my University and Command in Cricket but that was a long time back. Physical fitness is a sine-qua-non for me and hence an hour of exercise in the morning is religious. However, having done that I don’t feel the need to spend any more time on the sports field. Many friends have encouraged me to pick up Golf but spending 3-4 hours on a sporting activity is not my cup of tea. I will reiterate, sport is an exhilarating activity that builds up the strength of character and camaraderie, but it doesn’t fall in my scheme of things. It is not about something being good or bad, it is about something being appropriate to your needs and aspirations.
- Socialising – I am a fairly social person but like to restrict socialising to Saturday evening unless it’s some special occasion or an official party. This allows me to plan my week and day with precision wherein I can set firm and tangible goals for myself, and achieve them.
I will stop the post here with a caveat that what I have written is not the ideal routine but it is a routine that works for me. This routine has imbibed a sense of discipline and habit into me which has made me more productive. We will do a series on the Power of Habit, sometimes later, but suffice to say that whatever we do in a day, is 80% habitual activities. If we form consistent good habits or rather, appropriate habits, 80% of the battle for productivity is won. We can then focus on the remaining 20% with full vigour and concentration. I will look forward to your routine and best-practices which can benefit the readers of this blog. In the next posts, I will give my Ten Commandments for turbo-charging this Power of Focus.
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