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Guitar and Tights

Today we’ll be continuing our case study series. You’re about to be introduced to James, who wasn’t quite sure at first what he wanted, except that he wanted to be “more efficient”. As we’ve said before, everyone has different needs and wants when it comes to efficiency and productivity. We weren’t really sure what to do with James, but we tried our best – and here are the results.

Meet James

James is in his 20s. He’s still in school (college / university), and spends a lot of time pursuing other activities – namely a multitude of musical instruments and sports. As anyone who’s been to school in the USA knows, coursework, combined with campus life and athletics is quite a commitment. Add music and more sports to that, and you have a recipe for burnout. James made it clear that he didn’t want a complex efficiency system – he wanted something simple and easy to use. “A little more structure” was how he put it.

Here’s what he wanted:

  • To learn to structure both his musical and sports training.
  • To factor in school.
  • To make some money on the side.

We identified some time-wasters and inefficient habits:

  • Multitasking.
  • Doing things last minute.
  • Not knowing what to do next.

As we mentioned, James didn’t have an efficiency system – but he didn’t want anything that involved multiple programs either.


You may remember this awe-inspiring diagram.

Asian Efficiency Consulting James Analysis
Yep, we still use it.

Leverage Points

The two things that James considered his leverage points were:

  1. Side Income.
  2. Structured Learning (aka faster skill acquisition aka accelerated learning).

We weren’t particularly keen to advise James on starting a side business – he already had a lot on his plate that he didn’t want to give up. Instead, we provided both sides of the picture to him – what he would have to give up to pursue a side business and how he could go about it – and let him decide for himself.

For James, it would mean giving up time that would better spent say playing or practicing guitar, or time out of contact sports. The only way to build a business is through time and resources – and James had more time than resources going in. Thus, the only option he had would be to decrease the number of hours in other activities, and increase the number of hours in building a side business.

Skill acquisition and accelerated learning is something that was easier to advise James on. We gave him a simple process for breaking down specialized skills.

(note: the law of “you have to be in it to win it” applies here – to break down a specialized skill, you need some training, knowledge and experience in it first)

Here’s the process:

  1. Acquire knowledge about the skill or area.
  2. Acquire in-person experience about the skill or area.
  3. Find a model of excellence in the area, and spend time observing them.
  4. Mindmap out the different parts of the skill or area, breaking it down as best possible.
  5. Perform mental rehearsals of the observed behaviour (from the model of excellence), pretending as-if the person modelling.
  6. Perform as-if visualizations of improved skill in the area as self.
  7. Look at current state of skill and compare to future desired state. Map across the differences one-by-one and address them.

The important thing to remember her is that this is truly a process, and one that has to be continuously applied. In order to use this, James would have to set aside a certain number of hours every week to work at it.

Handling Leaks

James’ bad habits were fairly common:

  • Multitasking.
  • Doing things last minute.
  • Not knowing what to do next.

All three of these can be dealt with simply.

First, we advised James to use the Pomodoro technique, which AE Thanh has covered extensively here.

Next, we discovered that one of the sources of James’ not knowing what to do next was having his apartment in a mess – with loose papers and items everywhere. We advised him to sort, organize and throw out.

We also offered him a definition for strategic (creative) procrastination – for doing other things that need to be done while procrastinating about the task at hand.

James also had an issue with perfectionism – something that we don’t really consider a “bad habit” as such, but can be considered problematic in particular contexts. We helped him to understand that there is such a thing as “good enough” and that “perfect” was a subjective construct of his own mind, which in turn would have been heavily influenced by societal definitions. We also advised him to read up on boundaries, and to work out where the boundaries of his responsibility lay – and to learn to say no when something was beyond them.

Rituals, Routines and Downtime

James felt like he didn’t have enough downtime, mainly because he was classifying most of his activities, those that others would consider relaxing, as “work”.

For example:

  • Playing guitar.
  • Going to the gym.
  • Long-distance running.

We advised him to start using his “in between” time as downtime – that time spent between college classes or between sport activities.

James’ Morning Ritual

  1. Wake up.
  2. Drink 500mL of water.
  3. Use bathroom.
  4. Review goals for day.
  5. 5 minute visualization.
  6. Exercise – ab exercises and pushups.
  7. Check email, facebook and phone.
  8. Eat breakfast.
  9. Get dressed.
  10. Start of the day.

James’ Evening Ritual

  1. Exercise – ab exercises and pushups.
  2. Shower.
  3. Reading (optional).
  4. 30 minutes of visualization for skill acquisition.
  5. Quick journal entry.
  6. Sleep.

Efficiency System

As mentioned, James had no organization system and didn’t really want one. We advised that he sign up for a Google personal account and start to use the tools in there to help organize his life. Namely:

  • Google Calendar for schedule management.
  • Gmail for email and contacts.
  • Google Docs for a journal and simple paper-based task management.

In Closing

The important thing for James was realizing that there is an opportunity cost to pursuing activities – leisure time, sleep, and other activities.

Photo By: Luis Hernandez

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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. These case studies are awesome and give perspective on how different people can utilize different tools in order to get more productive.

    This is shining example how free tools can make a huge leverage. I am that person in mid 20ies, and I find Google productivity tools quite awesome with low or no entry barrier. I am eagerly awaiting for Google revamp of Tasks.

    I wrote a few good tips on Google Calendar: https://alphaefficiency.com/google-calendar-tips/

    And Google tasks: https://alphaefficiency.com/google-tasks/

    Hope this helps.

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