The Real Formula For Success
In any endeavor — work, play, or education — no one likes to be the loser. Of course, without losers, we can’t have winners, so the key is to do what it takes to set yourself apart from everyone else. It isn’t enough to coast through on minimal effort or to stay firmly entrenched in the middle of the pack. What you need is a formula for success, and as it turns out, there is one.
Ready for it?
Here it is:
Work Accomplished = Time Spent X Intensity
Also called “the Straight-A Method,” this formula comes to us from Cal Newport. He writes: “In the early 2000’s, I was obsessed with study habits. The obsession began with my interest in performing well at Dartmouth, then eventually evolved into a (surprisingly popular) book. Something I uncovered during this period is that high performing undergraduates, as a general rule, seem to internalize the following formula: Work Accomplished = Time Spent X Intensity.”
Newport continued: “This formula helps explain why some students can spend all night in the library and still struggle, while others never seem to crack a book but continually bust the curve. The time you spend ‘studying’ is meaningless outside of the context of intensity. A small number of highly intense hours, for example, can potentially produce more results than a night of low-intensity highlighting. (This is how I avoided all-nighters, for example, during my three year stretch of 4.0′s as an undergraduate.)”
And He’s Right.
It’s been a long time since my butt has hit the seat of a classroom chair. Today, life is about work and earning as much money as I can in as little a time as possible. The problem with six-hour-long writing sessions is that they typically devolve into an expanse of boredom and ADD, when I hit Facebook to see if anything is happening.
(In reality, I’m avoiding work.)
Once I’m at Facebook, a news story on the latest medical study will hit my eye, and I’ll click over to read it. As I’m reading, I may see a “Related Posts” section where some sneaky writer has put together the “8 Foods That Are Guaranteed To Kill You Before 60.” At this point, I break off and start reading that post with the intention of coming back to the one I’m reading.
Unfortunately, the second article is so captivating that I end up reading the whole thing and forgetting about the other article, and then I think, “I wonder what’s happening over on Facebook.” So I switch back and see the News Feed has refreshed and it starts all over again with a new topic.
(What was I doing again? Oh yes, work!)
A More Efficient Way
For me, the more efficient way of working is to back myself into a corner. Say that I have to get two blog posts done by my noon lunch meeting with a client, and it’s 10:30 a.m. It takes 10 minutes to leave my office and get to the restaurant. That means — oh no! — I’ve only got an hour and 20 minutes to get everything done (or 40 minutes each).
Instantly, I’ve created a ticking clock in my head that forces me to think of nothing else but the tasks ahead of me. I’ve made $40 per hour working in this manner, while other times I’ve sat down knowing there was $200 worth of work in front of me and I only ended up accomplishing half of it at the end of an eight-hour day.
Bottom line: if you convince yourself that “there’s not enough time,” there usually is. Same goes for studying because it ups your level of intensity.
Quick Tips For How To Up The Intensity
A ticking clock: there are lots of beautifully designed apps on iPhone and Android smartphone devices that you can use to schedule out your day. 30/30 is one of the best!
Waste time: no one tell my wife this, but while she thinks I’m busy in front of the computer from sun-up, I’m actually catching an extra 90 minutes of sleep and then rummaging around on my phone for another hour before hitting the shower. Of course, in my line of work, it often IS work if you’re surfing the ‘Net because you find things to write about in doing so. However, no one pays me to lay on the couch and save things to Pocket. The writing time — the thing I’m actually paid for — happens in short, intense bursts of energy and time. Similarly, your best studying can happen after you’ve “wasted” some time, though it probably works best when your “wastefulness” involves finding ways to work without it actually feeling like you’re working. If you can pull that off, then by all means do it.
Exercise: whenever the mind feels like it’s stagnating, one of the best things you can do is get up and move around. Recently, I discovered the app Breeze on the iPhone. While it’s hardly the first pedometer-fitness tracker on the market, I’ve found it the best-designed and easiest to work with. Since installing, I’ve averaged 10,000 steps per day from my previous high of 4,000. If you prefer your workouts more intense, hit the gym, sling some iron, or do some pushups.
Standing desk: A standing desk is great because it forces you to stand to get to your work materials. When you’re on your feet, your mind is more focused on the reason you’re on your feet. That means it’s easier to read assigned texts, work math problems, and outline your essay, than if you had the distraction and comfort of sitting.
Sometimes the way to get more done is to work a little less. When you follow this thought process, you’re not actually sloughing anything off. You’re revving your engine for takeoff and enabling your mind to be as sharp and productive as possible for the tasks at hand. What has helped you in increasing your intensity levels? Share your tips and tricks in our comments section!
[Image via RuddyOrtiz.com]