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It’s time for our monthly case study, and today I’m going to introduce you to Michael, a college student from the US. For those of you who have been through college, you know that it can be both the best and the worst of times, and a huge opportunity to “get ahead” with the rest of your life if you’re organized enough. With this in mind, we did what we could to help out Michael.

Meet Michael

Michael is your typical go-getter college student. He leads a busy academic and campus life, but is also looking ahead to his future to see what he can get done “in advance” to make the rest of his life easier.

Here are some of his unique challenges:

  • Wanting to start a side business while still in school – one that will enable him to travel once he’s done with school.
  • Staying fit and healthy.
  • Managing all the craziness that is a full-time academic load and busy campus social life.

Here are his time-wasters and inefficient habits

  • Cooking.
  • Facebook / email.
  • Procrastination, on both coursework and that side business.

Leverage Points

Michael’s main leverage points were:

  1. A side business that can be started on a few hours a week and produces a substantial enough income.
  2. Maintaining health and fitness.
  3. Doing all this while still maintaining a decent social life.

For his side business, we recommended that Michael approach it with a process orientation – that is to say, set aside a certain number of hours a week and keep to them. The reasoning behind this is that a new business is not something you can make outcome-based, as you’re still learning and unsure. Sticking to a proven process until it works (or clearly doesn’t) is the best way to get established.

To keep fit and stay healthy (while staying efficient), we asked Michael to find a gym buddy to make his fitness habit stick. We also pointed him to Don’t Break the Chain which is a reinforcement motivation technique where you do one small task every single day (and the view of all the past tasks makes it motivating). To cut down on cooking and food preparation times, we recommended prepackaged meals, like say a roasted chicken you can pick up at the grocery store and prewashed/precut spinach. Or alternatively, to cook in a large batch on the weekend and box and store for the rest of the week.

To do all this and still maintain a social life, we asked Michael to set aside two nights a week as “social nights” – and to remember not to let these bleed into other mornings or days.

Handling Leaks

Michael had some bad habits that needed to be amended:

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

Ironically, all these were the exact same as our last college student case study – James. Instead of repeating the same advice, I’ll just refer you to the article here.

In addition, Michael wanted to know about how to stay organized and how to work efficiently from cafes.

Keeping organized is largely dependent on what you do after you are done with a task. In this case, we always recommend clearing to neutral – resetting your workspace so it’s ready for use immediately the next time.

To work from a cafe, we recommend taking earphones, and your phone set to silent. Use pomodoros and take breaks as necessary, and remember that cafes are best for doing non-essential work.

Rituals, Routines and Downtime

Michael didn’t really have an issue with downtime – in fact, he seemed to enjoy the craziness of having too much to do in too little time.

The only caveat we gave him was to approach his side business with a process orientation, and to make sure that he made enough time for it – including work on Sundays if necessary.

Michael’s Morning Ritual

  1. Wake up.
  2. Drink 500mL of water.
  3. Use bathroom.
  4. Review goals for day.
  5. Journal Entry.
  6. 5 minute visualization.
  7. Martial Arts kata.
  8. Check email, facebook and phone.
  9. Eat breakfast.
  10. Get dressed.
  11. Start of the day.

Michael’s Evening Ritual

  1. Clear to Neutral.
  2. Reading (optional).
  3. 30 minutes of visualization.
  4. Quick journal entry.
  5. Sleep.

Efficiency System

Michael had an adhoc system for organization that he created using a single google docs page. We showed him how to expand on them:

  • Google Calendar for scheduling.
  • Gmail for email and contacts.
  • A Google docs folder as a personal wiki and information storage.
  • Rememberthemilk.com for task management.
  • AE Thanh’s email management system to work with his gmail account.
  • A Google docs page for his journal.

Here’s his task breakdown:

Michael's Task Breakdown
Michael's Task Breakdown

College Considerations

There were a couple of special considerations that we wanted to advise Michael on, especially around college.

The first was that as a college student, Michael had a lot of extra flexibility with regards to his schedule, and that he should try to group his classes into 1-2 days, early on in the week. This would free up the rest of his time to work as he wished on what he wished.

The second was the notion that good enough is good enough, especially when it comes to coursework. School and the education system may emphasize the idea that you only get “one chance” to get it right (pop quizzes, examinations, test papers), but the real world doesn’t work that way. Doing something “good enough” and then updating it later to be better is how things work in the real world.

The last was the idea of making work front-heavy. For example, with a 5,000 word term paper, work in batches of say 2500, 1000, 1000, 500, rather than trying to complete all 5000 words at the last minute.

In Closing

With Michael, the two main points we wanted to emphasise were that:

  1. Good enough is good enough.
  2. If you want to do a lot, you pay the price in opportunity cost – and sleep.
Photo by: Magnus Franklin

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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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