3 Steps to Finding Productivity and Happiness by Doing Fewer Things Better

After months of bootstrapping the business and burning through my savings, I finally got what I needed to push LawTrades into the stratosphere: I raised funding for my startup.  My friends and family heard about the news and wanted to celebrate, but I just stayed in bed all day and ignored their calls and messages.

Like a kid, I hid under my covers and just laid there.

Why?

For the first time since starting my company out of my law school apartment, I felt completely and utterly overwhelmed by the work that was cut out for me.

It got worse. Over the next few months, I began neglecting my relationships, regularly didn’t sleep until 3 AM, gained 10 lbs of fat, drank 6 cups of coffee a day, and worked 80 hour weeks.

I thought I was getting a lot done but I felt miserable.

Why I Hate the Word "Success"

The media portrays “successful” people - especially unicorn startups - as god-like individuals who overcame every obstacle thrown at them and are now benefiting from their overnight success.

But they’re not superheros. They’re odd people who figured out how to do big things against all bad habits and adversity. To me, success is defined as taking action on your ideas instead of letting it sit around in your brain.

From my analysis, the biggest achievers in the world mapped out their vision and I wanted to replicate their thought process.

Decision plus Action divided by Time = Progress

Using the strategy I'm about to share, I attacked my goals and focused on my wellbeing. In the last eight weeks, I grew my company to profitability, launched a successful side project, exercised daily, improved my personal relationships, and significantly cut down my dependence on caffeine.

But remember, you are a human being, not a human doing. Keeping that in mind, here’s the one thing I did differently that will help you get more done in a healthy, effective, and balanced way.

Doing More Better

I’m really bad at doing stuff quickly so this is a little mechanism for handling my roller coaster life while keeping my efficacy (that is, doing the right things) at it’s peak. At it’s core, you want to ask yourself:

What are the 3 most crucial activities related to my work, side projects, and personal goals?

As an an entrepreneur, artist, creator, or someone who holds a leadership position, it’s difficult to prioritize your objectives because you basically create your own schedule. But there is a method to the madness and here’s how to put it to action:

Step 1: Compartmentalize Your Thoughts

Grab a notebook (I use Moleskine) and on the right hand side write the 3 most important things you want to accomplish within 3 segments of your life - for me, it's my  work, my side projects, and my personal life.


For instance, in the work section you could write “update investor deck” or if you are a student it might be “finish philosophy essay.”

In the side projects section, put in things you like doing on the side such as "writing a post on Medium" or "buy a bicycle to ride to work".

Under personal, you want to put in stuff that you need to do for yourself, like "paying a credit card," "calling your parents," or "doing laundry." Don't skimp out on these minute details: just because you're doing important things in you're work doesn't mean you're free from the basic requirements of life and decency.

I like to add a square next to each of my items because I’m weird and get pleasure from checking it off after completing each task. Get granular enough with your tasks such that no one item will suck up your entire day. You should be able to check off your whole list once you get the hang of it.

Step 2: Get it Out of Your Head

On the left page, take notes on stuff relating to your important things. You can include potential issues, self motivators, drawings, additional information  - whatever. It's your thinking pad.

Think of it as a way to jot down an idea or problem before it leaves your mind, and thereby free more cognitive load to focus on your priorities.

You can also use the notes as a way to guide you on what you should be focusing for the following day. I often find myself filling up the left side throughout the day before I even create the list on the right. If you find you overfilled your right-side list, transfer it over to the next day - but always aim to set realistic goals for yourself so that you can start fresh each day.

Step 3: Execute Daily

Practice this every night. I like making this list right before bed. It helps stop my mind from running wild since tomorrow already feels complete.

When I wake up, I go through my morning routine, head to the office, open my notebook, and start attacking the list before I do any emails, social media, or meetings. Whatever else happens in my day after my list is complete, I'll have made consistent incremental progress.

After some time, you’ll drastically improve the efficacy of your work output.

The Point

The purpose above all is to keep your work relationship healthy so that you feel invigorated rather than overwhelmed. You’ll know if your work life encroaches in your personal life. Or if your personal life interferes with your side projects and vice versa.

This system will leave a huge impact on your mood. As you get the right things done, you’ll feel more happy, focused, and content with your day. You'll be able to track how well you do each day and can always go back to productive days for a burst of motivation.

The problem with workaholics is they become addicted to their work and end up neglecting other parts of life that are essential to their wellbeing. Your work should enrich all the other parts of your life, not take over it.

Something almost magical happens when you organize yourself and focus your creative energy on a well defined target.

Put Away the Keyboard

I think that this is one of those activities where you should keep it old school by writing your thoughts down using a pen or pencil. There are studies proving that this method leads to retaining information better. While you can probably write more in less time using a keyboard, this research shows that when you write by hand, it forces you to experience a different type of cognitive processing.

Specifically, it forces the brain to do more mental lifting such as analyzing, digesting and summarizing -  rather than just furiously typing without putting much thought to the content  -  in order to foster better comprehension and retention.


By doing just 3 things in each aspect of your life, you will keep balance and stay happy. I try my best to follow it every day. But when I don’t I always regret it. When you feel like life is getting to the best of you, remember that even the best people in the world feel this way sometimes.

As stated so elegantly by influential writer Kurt Vonnegut about his creative process: “When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth.”

You’re not the only one. Just sit comfortably, pick up a pen, write down your thoughts, and push forward.