learning

Take Back Your Life With One Phone Setting

Take back your life with one phone setting.jpg

Take Back Your Life With One Phone Setting

How to use the Do Not Disturb mode the right way

“Allowing an app to send you push notifications is like allowing a store clerk to grab you by the ear and drag you into their store. You’re letting someone insert a commercial into your life anytime they want.”

— David Pierce

There I was sitting in front of my computer editing the latest video, I was on fire and nothing was going to stop me from reaching my deadlines. When all of a sudden, I felt a ‘buzz’ in my pocket and heard a ‘ding’ emanating from the same location. It was my phone notifying me of a new email that had come in, it was important and it needed my attention. After replying to the first email, I noticed another email had made its way into my inbox, it too needed my attention. After 45 minutes of replying to emails and several messages from a variety of Whatsapp groups (they were important!), I finally managed to get back to editing the video.

Did I hit my deadline? I was nowhere near. This happened often and seldom did I have any peace and quiet to work on what was in front of me. I’m sure you’ve experienced something similar?

It occurred to me, what was stealing my attention was my phone. I knew that in order for me to be uber productive and get work done, I had to have a better relationship with my phone and its notifications.

What began as an experiment to focus on my work, has greatly benefitted every other aspect of my life. From relationships to personal growth, being completely distraction-free has allowed me to direct all my attention to what’s in front of me.

Depending on how you use it, the phone can be a useful tool or an annoying distraction. If you refuse to separate from your phone and leave it in another room, there is another way to stop it from constantly distracting you. In this article, I outline how I’ve managed to take control of my life with just one setting on the phone.

How distractions affect your focus

Every social media platform and messaging app is fighting for your attention and distracting you from what is important. Meaningful time spent with family and friends, creative work and focused studying are all lost because of a notification.

According to a recent study, after a simple distraction,

“It takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task.”

23 minutes! Can you believe it? A simple vibration or light emitting from your phone is enough of a distraction to lose focus, what’s worse is that these distractions happen on a regular basis, how much time are you losing because of a simple notification from your phone? Getting 3 messages within 5 minutes has robbed you from over an hour of focused time.

The one phone setting that can change everything for you

For those of you that that are unaware of the Do Not Disturb mode, it is an option that stops all notifications on your phone, rendering your phone completely silent. All noise, including vibrations and lights, are turned off, this makes it impossible to know if someone has messaged you or not.

Back then, I didn’t understand the concept of not being notified, I thought to be readily available for anyone made complete sense. If I had the Do Not Disturb mode on, how would I know if a family member or friend wanted to get in touch with me? I had no need for this feature. I’m sure you can agree with me?

In my journey of minimising distractions, I realised that in order for me to take back my attention I had to stop all notifications by using the Do Not Disturb mode. It took a few months of experimentation with the settings, but I managed to find a setting that worked for me.

What happened after? I now have a better grasp on life and I feel that I have regained control of my focus, relationships and productivity.

How I’ve set the Do Not Disturb mode

I prefer to have my Do Not Disturb mode on 24/7. I want to check my messages on my terms and not let a notification decide that for me. Using the Forest app, I would work in 25-minute blocks and take a 5-minute break once a block is done. It is only during those breaks that I will check my phone and reply to any messages that I’ve missed.

Recommended reading: The one app to help you focus.

“But what if there’s an emergency?” Sure, I understand that. You want to make sure that you’re available at a time of crises. I assure you, if there’s ever an imminent crisis nobody is going to send you a text message, let alone an email.

It’s for that reason I have only a handful of people (my immediate family, extremely close friends, and business partners) that can call me at any time and I will get the notification. Just to be clear, the only notification I will only receive is a phone call from those that are on my favourite list, I will not be notified if they message me. I’ve told every member on my list that if it is truly an emergency they can call me, for anything else, they can message me and I will get back to them by the end of the day.

Whenever my phone rings I understand that it is an important call and I must pick up, but rarely has this ever happened. With the Do Not Disturb mode on, I have created an order of priorities, if it doesn’t vibrate it doesn’t get my immediate attention.

How to set your Do Not Disturb mode similar to my settings

For Android users:

  1. Settings > Sounds and vibrations > Do not disturb

  2. Check ‘Turn on now’

  3. Select ‘Allow exceptions’

  4. Check ‘Custom’

  5. Set ‘Calls from’ to ‘Favourite contacts only’

  6. Go to your contacts and select only the people that are truly important to you

  7. Check the star next to their names to add them to the favourite list

For iPhone users:

  1. Settings > Do Not Disturb

  2. Check ‘Do Not Disturb’

  3. Select ‘Allow Calls From’

  4. Check ‘Favourites’

  5. Go to your contacts and select only the people that are truly important to you

  6. Select ‘Add to Favourites’

Conclusion

After a few months of living with the Do Not Disturb mode turned on, I realised not everything is as urgent as it seems. I don’t need to pick up every single phone call that comes my way, a text message doesn’t need to be replied to immediately, an email can sit in my inbox for a few hours.

Why let these messages take your attention when you can spend it working on the more important tasks or spending time with people that matter to you most? It’s a matter of priorities and understanding what is important to you.

Would you rather you spend your time reacting to every notification? Or would you rather be active and deliberate with everything you do and take control of your life?

Turning on the Do Not Disturb mode allowed me to do just that, perhaps, it can do the same for you.

I would suggest taking it slow and experiment with the Do Not Disturb setting, if you can find a nice balance between ‘complete isolation’ and ‘readily available’, perhaps, you’ll be able to find that it’ll greatly benefit not only your focus but also your relationships, creativity and all other aspects of your life.

***

Do you want to learn new skills to improve the quality of your life? Download the free 13 page e-book that teaches you the methods to approach every new skill you plan to learn. These same methods is what I've been using and it has helped me learn skills effectively in half the time. Click here to download the free e-book.

How I pay for my education.

How I pay for my education.

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Education can get expensive. Believe me, I know. I’ve spent just over £15,000 to graduate with a BA (Hons) degree in Graphic & Media Design, it was money well spent (I do hope you’re able to note the sarcastic undertone). Forget about formal education. What about learning a practical set of hard skills? From learning a new language to a new instrument, you’re going to need a few lessons and resource materials to make any progress. You could be frugal, go at it on your own and watch as many DIY tutorials on YouTube, but with so many videos contradicting each other, it’s difficult to know who to trust. Or you could speed up your learning curve and sign up to a few online courses, pay for a teacher and invest in yourself. I’m not saying one is better than the other, but I’ve managed to balance the two.

“That can get expensive, it all adds up!”

Sure it does, but as Benjamin Franklin said,

“If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”

I’ve managed to get on top of my finances so that whenever I need to spend money on anything related to learning I don’t bat an eyelid. How have I been able to get to this position? It took a lot of hard work and self-control and I’m going to share with you my process.

Continual growth is important, what better way to develop yourself than by learning a new skill? I am on a mission to learn and document every practical skill to better my life. Once a week I update you on what I’m currently learning and if you want to stay up-to-date and pick up a skill or two click here to sign up to the 1-minute report card.

 

Secrets of the millionaire mind.

I cannot take full credit of what I’m going to share with you. Everything I’ve learned regarding money management all comes from T. Harv Eker’s book, “Secrets of the Millionaire Mind.”

“It comes down to this: either you control money, or it will control you. To control money, you must manage it.”

Eker places great emphasis on managing your money wisely. What’s the best method for taking control over your money? Splitting it up into 6 different accounts.

This book helped manage my entire life!

This book helped manage my entire life!

Whether it’s money coming in from a steady salary or a one-off gift, you should try to split your income into the following accounts:

  • 50% into your Necessities Account - We all have bills to pay. Use this account for just that.

  • 10% into your Long-Term Savings Account - This should be dedicated to your future house, holidays and/or your ‘rainy day’ fund.

  • 10% into your Giving Account - It’s always good to give. Make sure you have enough for any charitable donations.

  • 10% into your Play Account - With all that saving and money management, it’s good to treat yourself every month. By using the money from this account you won’t feel guilty about going on a shopping spree.

  • 10% into your Financial Freedom Account - This account should only be spent on generating more money. Investing wisely will assure your financial freedom.

  • 10% into your Education Account - Use this account specifically for educational purposes. Whether I need to buy an online course, book or pay for someone’s time, this is where I take the money out from.

Although this article is focused on how I finance my learning, it also shows you how I finance my life. As you can see every account covers each aspect of my life. The important thing to take away is to live within the means of each fund. If I want to buy £50 worth of books and there’s only £5 left in the Education Account, I’ll have to wait until the account is topped up. The same goes for everything else.

 

What I’ve spent my money on.

As long as each purchase is justified I will go ahead with the sale with no buyers remorse. There have been times where I have spent £100 in one go whilst trying to learn a new language, in the last 3 months I’ve spent £60 on books alone. Just yesterday, I placed an order for 3 more books that equated to £30.

A bank statement from my Education Account.

A bank statement from my Education Account.

If I had kept all my money in one account, it would’ve been hard to know if I was going over my Education Fund and eating into my Long-Term Savings account. Splitting the money up makes everything easier to manage.

 

Why have an Education Account?

When I graduated from university with my degree in one hand and the other fist pumping the air (again, take note of the sarcastic undertone) I remember telling myself that I’m done with education. I no longer have to worry about exams, studying or learning something new. Shame on me! Eker said it best,

“If you're not continuously learning, you will be left behind.”

If you’re not taking the time out to learn new skills you’re not growing, you’ll be a one-trick pony that will eventually be phased out. If I had kept the mentality of no longer learning anything new I would’ve remained as a graphic designer making posters on Photoshop. Taking the leap and starting my own business, I was forced to learn new skills that helped me in my career. Soft skills like, public speaking, email etiquette, and time-management. To hard skills like, how to take good photographs, how to edit video, how to record audio and the list goes on.

Working on my business. This opportunity would have not been available if I didn't develop myself and learn new skills.

Although I was forced to learn all of these new skills to stay afloat in my industry, I soon realised the importance of continual growth. Eker goes on to add,

“The more you learn, the more you earn.”

Even if increasing your income isn’t on your radar, learning new skills to help you develop as an individual will open up new opportunities and experiences. This is why it’s important to have one account dedicated to your personal development, it’s the first step to taking continual growth seriously.

 

Make sure you live within your means.

In order for this system to work, I cannot stress to you how important it is to live within the means of each account. I know how tempting it can be to take a little bit from the Education Account and use it to pay off your bills, but you need to stay strong and stick to it. Eker adds,

Saying "I'll start managing my money as soon as I caught up" is like an overweight person saying "I'll start exercising and dieting as soon as I lose twenty pounds." It's putting the cart before the horse, which leads to going nowhere... or even backward! First you start properly handling the money you have, then you'll have more money to handle.

It’s important for you to remain consistent with your money management. It takes a lot of discipline and hard work to get to this level, but if you’re truly serious about growing as an individual these are the practices you’re going to need to take. It took me a while to grasp the concept of splitting my money up, especially when I had bills to pay, but I kept at it. Now, as soon as money comes in it’s almost second nature for me to move the money around. It’s a great feeling to know that when I want to spend money on a few books or online courses, there’s a little bit of money stashed away in a dedicated account.

If splitting up your money unsettles you I would start off slow. If you don’t want to manage your salary right now, buy 6 empty jars and split up any cash that you come across. One day when you least expect it, you may realise that you have a bit of money in your Education Account to buy a couple of resources that’ll help with your personal growth.

***

Do you want to learn new skills to improve the quality of your life? Download the free 13 page e-book that teaches you the methods to approach every new skill you plan to learn. These same methods is what I've been using and it has helped me learn skills effectively in half the time. Click here to download the free e-book.

How to improve your memory.

How to improve your memory.

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When I first approached learning a new language, I came across some great advice to speed up the process; learn the 1000 most common words used in that language. It won’t make you fluent, but it’ll definitely help you get by. Similar to the 80/20 rule, you’ll find in life that we only use 20% of our vocabulary to construct 80% of everyday conversations. So I went off to figure out the most common words and try to learn all 1000 of them. The start was difficult, I didn’t have a system to help me memorise each word and my memory failed me at times. Countless times. Who do I blame for that? My deteriorating brain? At the time of writing this I’m only 28, so that can’t be the reason— at least I hope not! After doing a bit of research and figuring out how to improve my memory, I came across a technique that helped improve it dramatically. This technique is something that we’ve all been aware of at a very young age, it is none other than the use of flashcards.

Before you roll your eyes and switch over to another article— hopefully another one of mine— I’m not talking about those flashcards that your teacher would show to you during your time in nursery. I’m talking about a specific software that takes flipping cards to a whole new level. Anki is an open source software—  that means it’s free of charge! Their slogan is,

“Powerful, intelligent flashcards. Remembering things just became much easier.”

Each digital card is fully customisable. You can add images, audio files, videos, whatever you can think of! As Anki phrases it, “the possibilities are endless.” Before I go into the benefits of flashcards and why Anki is a reliable tool. I thought it would be best to share my experience so far with the software.

Before we begin, I wanted to add that it’s important to prioritise learning over entertainment. What better way to develop yourself than by learning a new skill? I try to learn as many skills as possible, break down the entire process and share it with you. Once a week I update you on my progress, do you want to stay-up-date and learn how to pick up a skill or two? Click here to sign up to the 1-minute report card.

How I’ve been using Anki.

Look at all of those cards that I need to remember!

The image above is my homepage for Anki. Every flashcard sits in a deck, think of it as a folder, a place for you to organise all your cards. You’ll notice that I have quite a few decks in my account. I’ve come a long way from only memorising the 1000 most common words. I’ve added new decks that focus on a variety of topics. Now that I’ve become more comfortable with individual words I’m trying to become comfortable with useful phrases as well, another practice that is known as sentence mining.

With a tangible deck of cards, you have to write the question on the front and fill in the answer on the back. With Anki, you have to do the same thing but in digital form. However, each card is fully customisable giving you the freedom to be creative in your learning. Want to add an image to remind you of the answer? Or add an audio snippet of someone speaking the language? The possibilities are endless and it’s really down to how you want to use Anki for your own learning experience.

Filling this in can be boring.

It can get tedious filling in each card, especially when you have to enter in a 1000 new words. What I found most useful with Anki is that there is a community of learners that are willing to share their own decks. At the bottom of the home screen is a little button labeled, ‘Get shared’. Once clicked on, you are navigated to a new window and presented with a search bar that grants you access to trawl through their database of popular decks. A simple search of the word ‘Swedish’ came up with 50 results of detailed decks; I downloaded three of them! I would recommend you try out this feature, there’s an endless amount of free resource that you can take advantage of. I even typed in the word ‘Geography’ to see what would pop up, there is a community for almost every topic of learning.

So many decks to choose from!

Another feature that I am quite fond of are the detailed statistics for each deck. I am a man who enjoys looking at statistics (some of you might think of me weirdly now) and seeing the visual representation of small improvements. With that being said, Anki provides updated statistics for every deck that you can go through. Below is a screenshot of my progress with the 1000 common words deck. I’ve been using this deck for just over 5 months now, you’ll notice that I’m quite confident with 674 words and I’m still new to 131 of them. I do find this feature useful, getting instant feedback and knowing that I am progressing gives me comfort and motivates me to continue. Being able to say that I’m confident with over 600 new foreign words goes to show that I’ve come a long way. Before using Anki, my memory was all over the place, but after committing to going through the decks every day, I can clearly see an overall improvement.

Quite happy with my progress so far.

How does it work?

So how exactly have I been able to learn hundreds of new words and phrases? Well, there is some science to using Anki and I hope that by now you can see that it does work.

 

Spaced Repetition Systems.

Remember when I told you that my memory sucked when I started learning a thousand new words? Well it turns out I wasn’t the only one (phew!). Say I gave you 10 new words to remember, studies show that our memory rapidly declines as the days progress. By the end of the week, you’ll probably only remember 2 of them! The famous forgetting curve graph depicts how our memory deteriorates over time.

Look at that dip!

In order for us to combat our forgetful memory, we need to introduce a technique known as the spaced repetition system (SRS). This technique is pretty simple, you repeatedly review the information over a certain amount of time to allow the mind to absorb all of it in. The mind retains more when we regularly revisit the information. As the forgetting curve shows, trying to cram everything in one sitting isn’t productive, as you’ll eventually forget all of it by the end of the week. Having a system where you’re able to review the information at set intervals will make your memory last longer.

This goes to show that repetition is important.

That’s where Anki comes into play. The software includes its own algorithms that figure out when it’s time for you to review a specific card. It can tell when I’m not as confident with a card and let that surface more often than other cards that I have no trouble with. Also, don’t expect to go through the entire deck in one sitting. Anki understands that cramming everything in one day doesn’t make sense and it staggers the learning process. What does this mean? It means you’ll only be learning 10-20 new cards per day, and the remaining time is spent going through all the other cards that you’ve previously been exposed to. It took quite a long time for me to see all 1000 new foreign words.

This tells me that I'm quite confident with the card.

As you can see from the photo above, if I got the answer wrong it’ll let me revisit the card within 10 minutes. If I found it easy, I’ll revisit the card in 8 days time. Anki’s algorithm changes depending on each card. There are cards where the only option available is to review it within 1 minute, others where I will review it in 9 months time. Having this spaced repetition automated makes the whole learning process a lot smoother. Sure, you can use real flashcards, but to figure out when is a good time to revisit each card can get quite complicated. I’d rather let Anki figure that out for me; I’ve already got enough on my plate as it is!

 

Active Recall.

Did you ever have a method to prepare for an upcoming exam? I remember mine. A week leading up to my GCSE’s (end of secondary school exams) I would spend the majority of my days locked away in a quiet library. I would skim read a few books, underline ‘important’ information, transfer the notes to my notebook and then read them over again. I’d do this until lunchtime, take a break and then repeat until the end of the day. I realise now that this form of revision wasn’t the most effective way of learning, maybe that’s why I only ended up with 1 A, 5 B’s and 4 C’s (still, not bad!).

Reading books, listening to lectures and watching videos are all considered as a passive form of learning. This is not to say that it doesn’t work, but it’s not the most effective. Remember the saying, ‘in one ear and out the other’? That generally happens when the brain is placed in a passive state. Active learning— also known as active recall— is when you constantly challenge the brain, making it work by retrieving the information.

It's better to be on the right side of the graph.

How do you promote active recall? By constantly quizzing yourself on the answer. How do you do that? Isn’t it obvious by now? Every flashcard you interact with is getting you to actively recall the information stored somewhere in your brain. You’re constantly testing yourself and making the brain work, because of this, the information slowly moves from short-term into long-term memory, making it easier for you to recall the information. I wish I knew all of this when studying for my GCSE’s; I could’ve gotten more A’s!

What else will I be using it for?

It’s amazing to see how such a simple tool can help improve the mind dramatically. I guess there is a lot of truth to the phrase, ‘less is more’. I hope this article has shown you just how important— if used properly— the use of flashcards are. What I do want to stress is just how important it is to remain consistent in your learning. Being lazy with your flashcards will get you nowhere, your progress is determined by the actions you take consistently. Don’t expect your memory to become superhuman in a matter of weeks either, these things take time, but it’s a hell of a lot quicker than reading a book and cramming it all in.

Just remember, Anki can be used for just about anything. Currently, I’ve been using it to learn a new language, but I know Anki is a tool that I will continue to use whilst learning other skills. The next skill on my list is to learn piano, I’m certain I’ll be making new decks to help me memorise piano chords. Being creative when building your decks will help the process of learning more enjoyable. It can get quite monotonous flipping a card and seeing a word pop up on screen. Add a few images, insert sounds, it helps to be creative. One thing is for certain, by using Anki it will help improve your memory, which is important for when you’re learning any new skill. So how do you plan to include Anki in your learning?

Want to see how Anki helped me learn a new language? I surprised my girlfriend by secretly learning one of her languages and surprising her on her birthday. Everyday leading up to the event I was on Anki building up my vocabulary. I wouldn't have been able to do this without the software.

How I learned Swedish in three months.

How I learned Swedish in three months.

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Before I begin outlining how I managed to drastically improve my comprehension with the Swedish language in a short amount of time, let me explain why I wanted to put myself through all of those long arduous hours. You see, there’s a girl involved. Don’t all great stories start like that?

My girlfriend was born and raised in Sweden and is of Persian descent, she’s multilingual and can speak English, Swedish and Farsi fluently, which at times I am quite jealous of. With English being her weakest of the three I would occasionally correct her on subtle mistakes. How to pronounce the word ‘determined’, correcting her v’s from her w’s as well as her g’s and j’s. Whenever I would stop to correct her she would jokingly say, “Whatever, I know three languages.” I would reply back with, “Two and a half.”

Every so often she would pull out a complicated word in English and I’d stop to ask her how she learned that word. She would shrug her shoulders and think nothing of it. I, on the other hand, would be amazed and wonder how hard it would be to learn a new language. Being born and raised in England and be of Filipino descent, I never really embraced the Filipino culture. Learning Tagalog (the native language of Philippines) wasn’t really that appealing to me. I stuck with English and always struggled with learning another language. In my early 20’s I gave Tagalog a go and failed miserably, I would periodically go on Duolingo and attempt to learn Spanish too. That didn’t last long either.

Regardless of my lack of experience with learning a new language, I decided for my girlfriends next birthday I would surprise her with learning one of her languages. I chose Swedish instead of Farsi because I thought it would be the lesser of two evils, plus my cousin is half Swedish so I thought I could reach out to her and get some tips. Not only would it be a nice surprise, I thought that I could hit two birds with one stone. Her dad doesn’t speak English well enough to maintain a conversation, so I thought I could use the skill of a new language and be able to communicate with him.

I had carefully planned this out, I wanted to start off by taking photos together with the camera on a tripod, then I would sneakily hit the record button and start talking to her in Swedish and not stop until she took me seriously. Did I manage to surprise her? I guess you can be the judge of that.

I had come up with this idea 12 months beforehand, but I didn’t really do much for the first 9 months. I had no idea how to approach learning a new language and I wasn’t taking the challenge seriously. I had purchased Rosetta Stone for Swedish and hardly used it.Occasionally I would jump on Duolingo for 10 minutes and be so lackadaisical about it. I was making little to no progress, but I could only blame myself. Then with three months left everything changed. I realised with the birthday looming, I had to get my priorities in order if I wanted to successfully surprise my girlfriend.

Instead of dusting off the cobwebs and jumping back into the Rosetta Stone program, I thought I’d do some research on useful techniques on how to learn a language within 3 months. I knew I had to put the work in and time was running out. So I committed to a minimum of 10 hours a week of studying Swedish whilst implementing the different techniques of learning a new language in a short amount of time. The goal wasn’t to be fluent in Swedish but have enough knowledge to get by and surprise my girlfriend. I do regret not taking the challenge seriously from the very start. Who knows, I could’ve been fluent by the time I surprised her. At least I now have enough knowledge to have a basic conversation with my girlfriend. If I keep up this progress I’m sure I’ll be speaking fluently in no time.

A useful guide that helped put everything into perspective for me was an article written by Arthur from Faster To Master.  It outlined how to learn any language fast and I got some useful tips from it. You can check it out here.

With the use of deliberate practice coupled with the Pomodoro technique. I managed to effectively study around 10 hours a week. Here’s what my schedule would normally look like:

 

Monday - 19:00 - 21:00

25 minutes of Anki Flashcards

5-minute break

25 minutes of Duolingo

5-minute break

25 minutes of Memrise

5-minute break

25 minutes of watching an English film with Swedish subtitles

 

Tuesday - 0 Hours

 

Wednesday - 19:00 - 21:00

60 mins on iTalki

5-minute break

25 minutes of Anki Flashcards

5-minute break

25 minutes of reading the book, “Essentials of Swedish Grammar.” - This was so boring and I dreaded doing this every time I picked up the book, but I knew it was essential for my learning.

5-minute break

 

Thursday - 18:00 - 19:00

25 minutes of Anki Flashcards

5-minute break

25 minutes of Duolingo

5-minute break

 

Friday - 18:00 - 19:00

25 minutes of Anki Flashcards

5-minute break

25 minutes of writing exercises

5-minute break

 

Saturday - 19:00 - 21:00

60 mins on Skype with my Swedish cousin

5-minute break

25 minutes of Anki Flashcards

5-minute break

25 minutes of Duolingo

 

Sunday 18:00 - 19:00

25 minutes of Anki Flashcards

5-minute break

25 minutes of Duolingo.

5-minute break

 

That was pretty much it. Of course, the times were flexible and I would often shift things around depending on my schedule. I would mix and match the different exercises according to my mood as well. Regardless of the order, within a week I was trying to cover all the important sections of reading, writing and speaking. I would repeat this week after week for the entire 3 months. Keep in mind that I had to hide this all from my girlfriend, so whenever I was with her it was difficult to practice. There would be times when I’d only study 3 hours for the week as opposed to 10.

Even though at times I failed to study 10 hours a week, I still noticed a steep learning curve within the 3 months. Now that this is no longer a surprise, I have the luxury of practicing with her. I’d like to strengthen this skill to the point of confidently talking with her and hold a conversation about everyday life. I guess I just have to keep up what I’ve already been doing.

For anyone who is attempting to learn a new language or skill, practicing with an intense focus is essential. What helped me commit to each practice was by scheduling everything in advance. Keep track of how much time you commit to a skill and try and not to break the chain. You keep this consistent and I’m positive that you’ll see a major difference within 3 months time.

***

Are you struggling with picking up another language? Is learning something new difficult for you? Do you want to learn new skills to improve the quality of your life? Download the free 13 page e-book that teaches you the methods to approach every new skill you plan to learn. These same methods is what I've been using and it has helped me learn skills effectively in half the time. Click here to download the free e-book.

What is the Pomodoro technique?

What is the Pomodoro technique?

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A few years ago I was really embracing the role of a video editor. I had a total of 4 monitors glaring back at me, two of them were used for video editing. The one to my far right had a window opened for email, I was ready to immediately respond to anything that landed in my inbox. The last monitor placed above was mostly empty, but whenever I was doing something that didn’t require my full attention I would put on something on YouTube or Spotify to entertain me. Did I need all four to complete a video edit? Of course not, but it was pretty cool sitting in front of it all. I thought I was being productive, I thought I was focused. However, when I came across this one technique of improving my productivity, I realised the monitors had to go and it was time to downsize to one. What productivity hack did I come across might you ask? It was none other than the Pomodoro technique.


How the Pomodoro technique works.

It’s a pretty simple concept that is split into 4 rounds.

One complete round looks like this:

  1. Decide on the task you want to tackle.

  2. Set your timer for 25 minutes.

  3. With no distractions and 100% focus, work on your task until the timer ends.

  4. Set your timer for 5 minutes.

  5. Take a break.

You are to repeat this for another 3 rounds. At the end of your fourth round, you are to have a 15-minute break. This is to be repeated until your task is complete.

When translated into English the word ‘Pomodoro’ means ‘tomato’. It got its name from the tomato-shaped timer the inventor used to keep track of each cycle. Of course, you don’t need to use a tomato timer for your workflow, there are a plethora of apps and websites that can do the same job.

Skillful management of energy.

In his book, “The Power of Full Engagement” Loehr talks about the importance of managing your energy levels. One of the main methods to managing this is by taking regular breaks, 

“At the most practical level, our capacity to be fully engaged depends on our ability to periodically disengage.”

Jim Loehr

Have you ever felt burnt out and your performance level slowly going south? The reason for your burnout isn’t always due to the intensity of work you put in, but rather the lack of rest you implement. Taking calculated breaks from your task is important for the mind. Not only does it allow you to take a step away from your work, it resets your focus levels for when you come back. Allowing you to be more productive in the long run.

That is why the Pomodoro technique incorporates the occasional break. It reminds you to stop. In our society, so many of us have embraced the culture of burning the candles at both ends. Not only is it detrimental to the body, but it halts your performance as well. Overworking has unhealthy consequences that include lack of concentration, sickness, anxiety and a loss of passion. It’s no wonder why so many people are burnt out after long periods of work.

Similar to a car, when we work we’re expending energy from our tank, taking calculated breaks allows us to recover and fill that tank back up. Loehr puts it nicely, “Performance is grounded in the skilful management of energy.”

How do I spend my 5-minute breaks? If I’ve been working at my desk I definitely take a step back and walk away from it. I highly recommend creating distance between your work space and your place of recovery time. Take a 5-minute walk, go to the toilet, have a conversation with a colleague, do anything to get your mind off work.

One of my favourite past times is something quite childish. I like to throw a ball at my wall and invent new exciting ways to catch it. One handed, 360° spins and whatever else I can come up with. You might think I’m being immature but being playful in your rest periods is quite important. Be adventurous in your breaks, wind down and make the most of it. 

Effectively manage your time.

Knowing how to effectively manage your time for each project is an important skill to have. There are so many occasions where we feel overwhelmed and not know where to begin, I know at times I have felt like that. There are times where I’ve been working on a particular task, I look at the clock and I think to myself, “where has the time gone?” Ever since I started incorporating the Pomodoro technique I’ve been able to keep an eye on the time and effectively manage it. 

Knowing that I am to work on a task for 25 minutes at a time, I am able to keep a tally of how many rounds that have gone by. This allows to me decide if I’m working on one task for too long or if I’ve been wasting my time. If you can take control of your time and not let the day go by, I’m positive that your productivity level will spike. 

Remove all distractions

Remaining in a high state of focus can be mentally taxing, it’s challenging to maintain it for several minutes, let alone hours. That is why the Pomodoro technique forces you to work in short bursts. It understands that the mind cannot keep up such a high level of concentration for so long.

In order for you to make full use of the benefits of the Pomodoro technique, it’s important to remove all distractions from your work space. For the next 25 minutes, it’s just you and whatever task you set out to complete. Keeping your phone next to you or allowing colleagues to interrupt you isn’t going to help you be productive. Leave your phone in a drawer, close your email window tab, turn off any desktop notifications. In that time you’re going to be uber creative, solve problems and come up with the next best thing. Allowing something or someone to take that away from you is a travesty, you owe it to yourself to get the work done. Time is precious, what’s more, is how you spend it.

Saying this, I can totally understand if you find it difficult to remove all distractions. If for some reason you need to take the dog out for a walk or if the water is boiling, deal with that first, especially the latter! If you do get distracted, don’t beat yourself up. Reset the timer and continue with doing what you set out to do.

There are times when I’m in a new environment and noise pollution becomes a distraction, what I like to do is put on some headphones and listen to instrumental music. Not only does it drown out the background noise, but it allows me to zone in on the work and reach a level of flow.

My Experience.

Maybe the Pomodoro technique isn’t for you, but before you decide to jump onto the next productivity craze give it a go for at least one of your tasks. Don’t be so strict with the way you approach it, give yourself some leniency and enjoy the process. If you only have 45 minutes to work on a task, mathematically speaking you won’t be able to complete 2 full Pomodoro’s. That doesn’t mean you should not start the task at all!

There are times where I have bent the rules. I added a few more minutes to my break or continue working when the timer went off. I use the Pomodoro technique as a rough guideline to help me manage my time and energy. Ever since I implemented the Pomodoro technique it has definitely streamlined my workflow, which has had a positive knock-on effect on other aspects of my life. I recommend you give it a go and see if it can benefit you too. Everyone has their own methods to be productive. What’s yours going to be?

Links & Apps

What you’re looking for is a way to keep track of each Pomodoro round. You can do this with the help of an app or you can do this with your own timer and notepad. Whatever you choose, make sure it suits your needs.

For the pen and paper enthusiast

Sometimes you can’t beat a good old pen and paper. These days, almost everything is digital, break the trend and go analog! Buy yourself a traditional Pomodoro Timer, a Moleskin Notepad, and a pen.

For the iOS lovers

Having a timer on your phone, tablet and desktop can help you keep in check and not get distracted. If you’re on an iOS device the Be Focused App is ideal

For the iOS haters

Hate everything Apple? No worries I’ve got you covered. The brain focus app will do the job for every Android phone.

For the desktop fanatic

As the majority of my work is done on a laptop, I knew I needed to install a Pomodoro timer on my computer. My go-to desktop application is Tomighty. It's available for both Windows and Mac, which is great as I work on a Dell laptop. Tomighty conveniently sits on your taskbar and notifies you when your break is due and when to get back to work. I’ve been using Tomighty for a while now and I can’t see myself switching over to anything else.

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Do you want to learn new skills to improve the quality of your life? Download the free 13 page e-book that teaches you the methods to approach every new skill you plan to learn. These same methods is what I've been using and it has helped me learn skills effectively in half the time. Click here to download the free e-book.

What I Need Is a Deadline

Deadline v2.jpg

I had given myself an impossible goal, at least that’s what I thought at the time. I wanted to surprise my multilingual girlfriend by learning one of her languages and randomly start using it with her. The chosen language was Swedish and I decided to surprise her on her next birthday, which gave me just under 12 months to hit the deadline. With a goal set so far ahead, I thought I’d easily complete it. Stupid me for thinking such a thing! Knowing I had almost a year before the surprise I immediately took a back seat, there was no sense of urgency and I let time fly by. Fast forward 9 months and I was nowhere where I wanted to be. Sure, I studied every now and then. I could understand a few words, construct a few sentences, but enough to surprise my girlfriend? Definitely not. With 3 months left I realised I had to pick up the slack if I wanted to successfully surprise her. I decided to commit to a minimum of 10 hours a week of deep practice. I would use flashcards, converse with locals and log into Duolingo for multiple hours. I’ll be honest with you, it was horrible, but I brought this upon myself. This could have been avoided if I had studied properly from the beginning. Did I successfully surprise her? I’ll let you be the judge of that. 

In my experience, I found setting a deadline one of the main motivators that pushed me to hit my goal. Not only did it hold me accountable, but it put some added pressure that pushed me to get off my lazy arse. In this blog, not only will I share with you my experience with deadlines, but I’ll explain why having a deadline for your goals is not a bad idea for you to implement in your everyday life.

Get your priorities in order.

Having a checklist of tasks to complete is very useful, especially when you have so much to do! You could either track it with a pen and paper, or you could use an online management tool like Trello. The problem with a to-do list is that we can fall into the trap of piling on more tasks without getting a chance to complete anything else. You start off with 3 important tasks, but then reality kicks in and you have to add another 10 more by the end of the week. Sound familiar? Well, it did for me. It wasn’t until I started adding deadlines to each task that I realised what was the most important item to complete. Adding a deadline allows you to step back and discern what needs working on immediately. Tasks with a shorter deadline tend to get bumped up to the top of the list, helping you to create a little order in your list of priorities.

Warren Buffett had a more interesting approach to prioritising his list. When talking with his personal pilot he asked him to write down his top 25 goals. Having done that, Buffett told the pilot to circle his top five most important goals. Once that was done, the list was now split in two. The first list with 5 important goals, the second with the remaining 20. Then Buffett said, “Everything you didn’t circle just became your Avoid-At-All-Cost list. No matter what, these things get no attention from you until you’ve succeeded with your top 5.”

It’s a cut-throat approach to prioritising. but maybe this is what is needed in order to reach your goals. This way of thinking doesn’t have to just be for your life goals, it can also be used for your to-do list for the week or even the day! Understanding what your priorities are in all aspects of your life is important, and setting a deadline for each task, goal or challenge, allows you to establish your level of priority for each one. 

Move with a sense of purpose.

In hindsight, I realised that giving myself a lengthy timeline was my downfall. Knowing that I had an entire year to learn a new skill I moved with no purpose, sure I had a goal, but it was so far away I thought I could take my time and learn at a slow steady pace. There was no sense of urgency, there was no commitment to learning 2 hours a day, there was nothing pushing me to go and study the language. Once I realised that the deadline was looming, that’s when panic set in and I realised if I don’t take this goal seriously, I willmiss the deadline.

Robert Greene, the author of the book Mastery phrased it well,

“The feeling that we have endless time to complete our work has an insidious and debilitating effect on our minds...For this purpose you must always try to work with deadlines, whether real or manufactured.”

The only thing that got me moving was knowing that the birthday was soon fast approaching. The idea of failure and having to wait another year in order to surprise my girlfriend was enough to light a fire under me and get to work. 

Having a deadline not only helps you to understand what needs working now, but it actually gets you moving and completing the goal. Learn from my mistakes and not set your goals too far in advance. Which leads me to my next point.

Set shorter deadlines.

Setting a goal and giving yourself a deadline is great, but setting one too far into the future that you forget about the goal, is just as bad as not setting one at all. We’ve all been there, it’s a new year and along with it comes new resolutions. Losing weight for the year, getting on top of finances or reading more books for self-improvement are a few of the top ranking new year's resolutions every year. How many are able to stick to their new year's resolutions for the entire year? There’s about a 30% drop off rate from the first week, that increases to 40% after the first month and about 60% fall off the wagon after 6 months. Statistically speaking, you have less than half a chance of sticking to a new year’s resolution.

One reason I believe that so many can’t stick to their resolutions is that they don’t break down their goals down into smaller, manageable deadlines. Looking back, I realised that I should have broken it down into quarters, or perhaps monthly and maybe quite possibly weekly. For this reason, I now keep a weekly report card on my learning status. I honestly grade myself from the previous week, basing it on the number of hours I’ve committed to achieving my goals and deadlines. Ever since I implemented this into my life, I have found that I’ve been holding myself more accountable and getting closer to the main goal. 

Keep that sense of urgency alive in you by constantly giving yourself shorter deadlines to work towards. No matter how little, all of those little victories add up, and sooner than later you’ll find that you’ve achieved the big goal you set out to do. Duke Ellington, the famous composer, and pianist said it best, “I don’t need more time. What I need is a deadline.”

Hold yourself accountable.

Setting yourself a deadline is one thing, but to announce it to the world is a whole different story. Why would you want to do such a thing? To keep yourself accountable of course! When I realised that I only had 3 months left on my deadline, I made a commitment to myself that I would study for at least 10 hours a week, sometimes that would mean studying for 2 hours in one sitting! If I didn’t share this commitment with anyone I could have easily kept it to myself and no one would have known that I had failed. I knew I had to find someone to hold me accountable. After searching the internet for such a service, I came across a website known as Stickk.com. Not only do you announce your commitment to the online world, but you pay a fee to an anti-charity for not achieving your deadline. Sounds ridiculous, but I was sold. Stickk.com utilises the psychological power of loss aversion, the idea of losing something is a great motivator to achieving your goals than getting something for completing it. So I invited a few friends to follow me on my journey and got one of them to referee my progress. Ironically, if I had failed one week I would have to fork out $20 to the anti-charity that campaigned for an independent Britain. I was pretty much funding an organisation that wanted to push my overseas girlfriend further away from me.

How did I do? Out of the 13 weeks of intense studying, there were only two occasions where I was unable to commit to a minimum of 10 hours per week. Which meant I had to fork out $40 to the anti-charity. At least it wasn’t the full $260! Having friends following my progress and the thought of losing out on a relatively large sum of money really motivated me. If you decide to do something similar I recommend increasing the stake to an amount that you’re uncomfortable ‘throwing’ away.

A screenshot of my profile on Stickk.com

A screenshot of my profile on Stickk.com

A screenshot of my profile on Stickk.com

My final thoughts.

Everything I’ve shared with you in this article has come from first-hand experience. I too have wondered endlessly with no real direction to achieving my goals. It was only when I decided to give myself a deadline, whether small or big, that it help me establish what the next step was. I can totally understand the stress of giving yourself a deadline and not achieving it. This doesn’t mean you’re a failure, it just gives you some perspective on where you are on your journey. Remember, constant feedback is never a bad thing. Hopefully, by reading this article you would have understood the psychological benefits of constantly giving yourself a deadline and how it far outweighs the little-added pressure on hitting your goal - sometimes a little pressure is good for you! I would recommend at least giving this a try with something small, you can then see if it help motivate you or not. Since experiencing the 3-month deadline for learning a new language, I realised the importance of having a deadline in general. Not only have I placed a deadline for each of my main goals, but I also do it with small tasks throughout the months, weeks and even days. Give yourself one and see how it goes. I wish you good luck on your journey!

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Do you want to learn new skills to improve the quality of your life? Download the free 13 page e-book that teaches you the methods to approach every new skill you plan to learn. These same methods is what I've been using and it has helped me learn skills effectively in half the time. Click here to download the free e-book.