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Not too long ago we hosted the 5-Day Focus Challenge and it was a huge success.

Thousands of people followed along and hundreds of people have submitted their success stories.

As the challenge went on, we helped people make a transformation from being “unfocused and scatter-brained” to “I’m focused and making lots of progress on my goals”.

All of them had things they kept putting off and they couldn’t find the time to focus on what was most important. This is a struggle all of us have experienced. We know what we need to do…yet we don’t do it.

Some struggled with getting started. Some kept prioritizing urgent, not important things over what actually mattered. Some work in a distracting environment that robbed them of their ability to focus and do deep work.

The whole point of being productive is so that you will achieve your goals and be the person you know you can be….in the fastest way possible.

At Asian Efficiency we give away free, actionable information on the blog and podcast to help you become more productive and achieve your goals faster.

That’s what we did with the free 5-Day Focus Challenge on the blog. We know that if we can show you that our free materials work, then eventually you’ll join one of our world-class paid courses where we dive deeper and help you achieve your goals even faster (with higher success rate). As an extra incentive, we would give away five prizes worth over $550. We’ve randomly selected the winners and here they are.

I’d like to introduce you to five Asian Efficiency readers who went through the focus challenge, finally got focused and made significant progress on their goals.

1. A Physician Finally Starts Writing

Tanner is a physician based in Columbus, Ohio. He’s very busy in his line work and it won’t be getting any easier. Outside of that, he also has big dreams for his future with his wife. Let me share the exact words he wrote us before he went through our materials:

“I have a big transition in my job coming up, so the next 5 years will be about settling into my career while also keeping the door open on the niches available to me so I can maintain the career I love and avoid burnout. Hopefully in 10 years my wife and I will have a couple of children, purchased our first house (finally), paid down our student loans, and maintained financial stability enough that we can still afford the travel we both love. We plan on doing a yearly review together, focusing on the future and the coming 1, 5, and 10 years together.”

Just like the other students, when you get overwhelmed by all the things we need to do it’s easy to lose focus on what’s important. Tanner was struggling with this himself.

After going through our exercises he found clarity and he knew what he needed to focus on. He wrote:

“My 80/20 exercise is going to be some paperwork/forms that have been pending in my inbox for several weeks. It’s so simple but would make a big impact on my future plans. Just because something isn’t the most fun or exciting doesn’t mean it should be shoved to the bottom of my list.”

I love the last line: “Just because something isn’t the most fun or exciting doesn’t mean it should be shoved to the bottom of my list.”

Aren’t we all guilty of this? Oftentimes we’ll put the boring or tedious stuff at the bottom of our todo list, and the fun, sexy stuff at the top.

After years of working with clients and improving my own life, here’s what I’ve realized (and Tanner did too):

Becoming more successful is oftentimes doing the boring, mundane and tedious stuff that most people aren’t willing to do.

After he had that realization, Tanner got to work on the things that mattered to him. With great success. A couple days later he sent us this picture of him sitting at a coffee shop working on his most important project:

“It was really nice to have a guided tour through some of the skills it takes to become more productive/efficient with my time. Nothing like a little focus boost! The photo attached was a bunch of papers I needed to fill out and send back for the past few weeks but just “couldn’t find the time”. Realized with the exercises that it’s much more important than many of the things I was putting it off for, and I just needed to eat my frog and do it! Knocked it out, as well as was able to start work on my next lecture about cognitive overload! Thanks for the help you all!”

Did you notice his excuse?

He “couldn’t find the time”.

After he did the exercises that we showed him, he got clarity what actually was important to him and he got started on them.

Great job Tanner! You won the Bose QC35.

2. Professor Wants to Live Longer and Read More

How often have you said to yourself:

“I wish I exercised more” or “I wish I read more”?

All of us can relate to this. Here’s Carmen who wanted to do both. She’s a professor of American Studies in Madrid, Spain who kept telling herself to exercise and read more.

Most of us know what we want but there’s a strange disconnect between wanting something and actually putting in the effort to get it.

Fortunately for Carmen, she decided to join the Focus Challenge as a way to get started on her new habits. Here’s what she wrote:

After the 5-day Focus Challenge last week, I have decided to do two things to align my vision of who I want to be with the things I do every day. They are things I had been doing in the past, but I had allowed urgent things (email, mostly) to keep me from doing important things.

Because I want to live longer and be healthier, I have decided to go back to exercise and professionally, I also want to find the time to read for at least a half hour (1 pomodoro), ideally one hour and a half (3 pomodoros) in my field: it is not that I feel like I’m falling behind, it is that my understanding of the field is starting to be chaotic and fragmented in a way I’m not enjoying.

So I went back to exercising last week (I exercised over 2 hours, in for sessions) – that’s a screenshot from my phone.

I also started reading seriously in my field today, Monday (months ago I decided NOT TO WORK during the weekend, a giant step that has forced me to be more productive during the work week). That’s a photo of the 3 pomodoros and the notes I took on my computer!

I’m really excited about this and looking forward to being more productive and enjoying my life more, too. Thank you guys for everything!

Here was her submission:

Congratulations Carmen on winning the Apple Airpods!

3. Software Engineer Started to Walk Every Morning for 15 Minutes

When we were doing customer research for our course on habits, one of the questions we asked them was:

“What’s one habit you wish you had?”

The top answer surprised me: walking every morning.

Some cited it for health reasons, others for creativity purposes. So we kept digging deeper on why people didn’t walk every morning. You would think it’s really simple to do so why weren’t people doing it.

That’s where a lot of interesting insights came in.

I can’t share what this is because it’s something our competition would love to know (and something they aren’t able to discover).

Just kidding. I’ll share it with you.

There were two reasons why people didn’t walk every morning:

1. Bad, unpredictable weather can hold people back from walking consistently
2. “I can’t find the time to do it”

The first one is a viable excuse. If it’s raining or snowing, I can understand why you wouldn’t walk (especially at an older age). It’s not just the weather that’s the main problem. It’s when someone skips a day, it’s easy for them to skip another day (even when it’s nice weather outside).

Once you skip a day, it’s easy to keep skipping until you never get back into your old habit.

We have a separate solution for this that’s covered inside our Rituals course.

The second excuse is an interesting one that I hear all the time: “I can’t find the time to do it”.

I’ll spare you a 1,500-word rant on this. The short answer is this: it’s not important enough to you.

When something is really important, you’ll find a way to do it.

If you want to pick your kids from practice or school, you’ll find a way to make that happen. Even if it seems impossible.

If you need to make an extra couple hundred dollars to pay rent, you’ll find a way to do it.

When people utter that phrase, it says that what they think they want is not important enough. It’s “nice to have”.

I want to do brain exercises every day. It supposedly helps me live longer and improve my memory as I age. I know it’s beneficial to me just like walking more is for others. Yet I keep saying “I can’t find the time for it”.


Same thing. It’s not that important to me compared to all the other goals I have (like growing Asian Efficiency and having unique experiences in my life). It’s nice to have…not a “must”.

Fortunately, Elmer, a family man from Riverside, CA, only needed a nudge to get started on walking. Once he got crystal clear on his long-term goals, he knew needed to make a change.

Sitting behind a computer all day wasn’t good for his health. He always knew this but he couldn’t find a way to change his habits.

He had done a ton of research of what he could be doing and it was all in his head but he couldn’t get started.

After doing an exercise we call “Your Ideal Future” he realized what he needed to do: exercise.

He already knew how important it was for his health and his family. After the clarity exercise, it became priority #1. As a software engineer and dad, he wants to live longer and healthier so he can be around for his family.

Elmer was smart to take it one step at a time. Literally. Instead of doing crazy workout programs, he committed to walking more. He sent in a screenshot of his app that tracks his exercise:

Notice how he started with walking and then added in running and an elliptical machine. That’s the power of momentum. Once you have momentum, it’s really easy to add more things. The hardest part is to get started but once you focus and start, it’s easy to maintain and follow through.

Great job Elmer! Keep it going. We’ll send you the Esington timer.

4. A Real Estate Agent Is Now Making More Deals

Meet Cathy. She’s a real estate agent in Raleigh, North Carolina with two boys and has been married for over 37 years.

She’s been following Asian Efficiency for years and has overhauled her life with a lot of what we teach (she’s a Mac and OmniFocus user to start with).

She’s in the business of helping people find their dream home. Out of everything she could be doing, she knew that calling and talking to people on the phone is one of her high-value activities.

The more she gets on the phone, the more she can help people. And the more she helps people, the bigger her business gets.

It’s simple, right?

What’s usually challenging is that we get overwhelmed by all the “other” stuff we could be doing that might seem important and valuable. As with anything, there’s an 80/20. In Cathy’s case, instead of posting on social media or going to a lot of networking events, she knew that the 80/20 of growing her business is to call and talk to people on the phone.

So she made a list in her task manager to call at least 10 people a week. Here’s her screenshot:

There’s something we can learn from this. Out of the 50 things you can do, think about the 80/20 principle. What are the few actions that make the biggest difference?

The challenge most of us have is that we lack confidence in what we need to focus on. What if you focus on something but in the back of your head you’re not sure if it’s the right thing to focus on? Well…guess what happens. You can’t achieve deep work when you have that doubt lingering around.

That’s why we always work on finding clarity first and then teach people the focus skills they need. Fortunately, Cathy did it and it’s paying off for her.

And we’ll send you a copy of the book Deep Work.

5. PhD Student Employs a Simple Technology Trick to Remind Herself of Her Goals Every Day

To stay focused, you need a daily reminder of what your goals are. It’s why we advocate that you always review your goals as part of your morning ritual.

Those two minutes of looking over your goals in the morning can change the rest of the day.

When you don’t have your goals on top of mind, it’s easy to let the last-minute emergencies, urgent tasks and distractions take over as top priorities.

And once it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind.

One clever trick an Asian Efficiency reader did was to use the Eisenhower Box as her desktop wallpaper. With the Eisenhower Box you have a clear picture of what your priorities are (and what you should NOT be doing).

Tuvshinzaya from Mongolia sent in a picture of her desktop wallpaper with her files organized in the appropriate boxes. She’s working on finishing her PhD which requires a lot of research, reading, and writing. All the files related to her goal are on the top half of the screen and notice how she put a movie in the not-urgent & not-important box.

Here’s what she wrote us:

Dear Asian Efficiency team,

I am always looking out for the next great idea or simplifier or just experiences of people smarter than me that can allow me to leapfrog through the trial-and-error part, and the contents of 5Day Focus Challenge packed a bunch of those! This is how my desktop looks now after finding Eisenhower square and I am super grateful, this is a valuable tool to add to the toolbox!

Cheers and all the luck to you guys (+ me in this instance ^^),

I sent her a follow-up email to elaborate how she uses the desktop wallpaper in detail. This is what she wrote:

I use the desktop to sort through the subset activities of these goals placed in a folder. For example, I put that day’s journal article to read in the “Do First” green square, while I put away my travel blog documents in “Schedule” blue square to figure out specific deadlines for later.

In “Delegate” I have some PowerPoint slides that I will ask someone to make into a prezi. In the “Don’t Do” section, I have the movie “A Bear Named Winnie” that I keep watching in pieces on repeat.

I also had four items there that I recognized later as “prestige goals” that actually did not align with what I value (or just enough to spend time and effort required) but was recognized widely as cool and hip in my friends circles such as learning how to take great foodie photos or diy basket-weaving. I had since removed them completely from my goals and schedules.

This is by no means a perfect system, but it really does help. I think it is especially beneficial for people who want to try to do everything with the “Don’t do” and “Delegate” squares.

Sometimes knowing what NOT to do is just as valuable as knowing what to do. By having both in front of you it’s a really simple yet powerful way to be reminded of that every day.

Thanks Tuvshinzaya for sharing! You also won a copy of Deep Work.

Next Actions

The purpose behind Asian Efficiency is to make you more productive and help you achieve your goals faster. If ordinary people like the ones you read about can do it, so can you.

Once you can focus on what’s important, it’s only inevitable that you’ll hit your goals and become the person you want to be. We all have it in us but we need to concentrate our attention to something that pushes us forward.

Just think of this: what happens when the sun shines on a leaf all day?

Nothing, it only makes it hot.

But if you use a magnifying glass to FOCUS the sun’s energy, then it’ll cause the leaf to catch on fire.

Do you want to finally achieve your goals? Then FOCUS.

To help you with that, we’re hosting a free presentation in a couple days that will show you how to focus and achieve a year’s worth of work in the next 30 days.

We’ll cover:

  • How to focus and stay focused long enough to get important work done (even when you lack motivation)
  • How to find clarity and prioritize what your next step is towards your goals (especially if you have a lot of priorities and you can’t choose)
  • We will give you specific tips and scripts for dealing with people who interrupt you at work, at home and your kids
  • We’ll show you our Focus&Finish System that we use every day to do Deep Work and create massive value in our business

And much more.

Click here to claim your spot.

(If you can’t make it, still register for it and we’ll send you a recording of it.)

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Thanh Pham

Founder of Asian Efficiency where we help people become more productive at work and in life. I've been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, and The Globe & Mail as a productivity thought leader. At AE I'm responsible for leading teams and executing our vision to assist people all over the world live their best life possible.

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  1. Nice follow up!

    Not only have I continued walking, I’ve upped the game with a Couch25k program that I’m now starting on week 3.

    Thanks for all of your help!

  2. So amazed and very excited at how much my fellow AE-ers were able to accomplish just by focusing on which goals are truly important. I am delighted to be in such company with these newly-focused high achievers, and look forward to the next presentation of how to achieve a year’s worth of work in 30 days!!

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