How to get more done in life

Photo by Carl Heyerdahl on Unsplash

I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.

Henry David Thoreau

I had graduated from the London School of Economics and Political Science and had a masters in Banking and Finance from University College London and I had just been called to the bar at Lincoln’s Inn.

For me it was an earth shattering moment when I was exploring the legal marketplace in Pakistan to discover that $300 a month to work as an associate was on the higher end of the pay-scale. Most of my friends who had graduated with me were unable to secure jobs at law firms given the scarcity of large corporate law firms in Pakistan and even the “lucky ones” that managed to secure placements at law firms were working without any salary.

I knew by 2008 that if I continued on the same trajectory, my salary would not increase by much so that I would be able to build up a sufficient amount of capital to achieve financial independence.

So I quit and decided to apply for positions in the Middle East in the hopes of moving abroad and accelerate my quest towards financial independence.

In 2009 I was able to secure such a position in Abu Dhabi which effectively increased my salary to $6000 a month from $300 and the position also allowed me to work on some of the groundbreaking deals in the Middle East region. From thereon my salary kept on increasing upwards of $15000 tax free within less than 5 years.

The fact of the matter is that you can increase your income.

You can spend less time at work and more time at home with your family.

You can achieve the kind of psychological, emotional and even spiritual fulfillment you’ve always wanted.

You can feel optimistic about your work future.

You can lead the life of your dreams.

One of the books I had read earlier on in my career was “Fire your Boss” by Stephen M. Pollan and Mark Levine. The book outlines seven simple yet empowering steps to enhance your career.

  1. Start by firing your boss and hiring yourself. Write your own job description, give yourself a performance review, define alternate courses for your work life, and put your plan into writing. This will let you take charge of your work life.
  2. Next, kill your career and get a job instead. Analyze why you work. Determine ways to get what you want through areas of your life other than work. Then start pursuing these routes to fulfillment outside of work.
  3. Then, realize there’s no I in job. Focus on meeting your boss’s needs rather than your own. That will let you secure your job even while spending less time in the office.
  4. Your next step is to “go fish”. That means learning how to go job fishing rather than job hunting. Rather than reactively looking for work when something happens at your current job, become a proactive job seeker who’s constantly looking for another position. Alternatively, offers can be used as bargaining chips to get more at your current job, or to create competition between two suitors.
  5. The fifth step is to realize that no one hires a stranger today. The age of networking and informational interviews is over. Draw on your personal relationships to find job offers. Expand your personal life and you expand the universe from which you can draw connections, broadening your reach into fields and industries you’d never otherwise touch.
  6. Next, accept that it’s the money that counts when choosing which job offers you should take.
  7. Finally, you need to enter your job with a plan for leaving-an attitude I call “Hello, I must be going.” Accept that no job is permanent. Resolve to leave on your schedule rather than your boss’s. Turn leaving a job into a positive step rather than a defensive one.

Another book which I found useful in boosting productivity at work was “SMARTER FASTER BETTER” by Charles Duhigg. Here are a couple of key takeaways.

  1. Setting Priorities

Just as we’ve let others determine our work futures, we’ve let them convince us what our priorities should be. It’s the role of a company to be as profitable as possible. Part of its effort to maximise profits is to increase efficiency.

While there are lots of ways to do that, the most common is to get as much work from employees as possible while paying them as little as possible. In that effort, companies have worked hard to offer “psychic” as opposed to financial rewards to employees, knowing that doing so is in the company’s best interest. Some simply issue threats, covertly or overtly, saying the extended hours are a requirement for keeping your job. Others are more subtle and sophisticated, and try to make the workplace as much like home as possible and coming in early and staying late at the job as convenient as possible. These fit neatly into the mind-set that you live to work, and that your identity is wrapped up in your job. Abandon those notions and these efforts lose their power over you.

2. We are all Hired to be Fired

In professional sports leagues, only one team wins a championship. That means every other team in the league ends up a loser, regardless of how entertaining its games were, or how much its record improved over previous years. Because of this, coaches or managers are constantly being fired. After all, unless they win the championship they’ve failed at their job. The adage is that a coach or manager is hired to be fired.

What’s true of professional sports is true of all work today. We are larger and the number of potential employers lower. And if multiple companies in your industry are cutting back, that could have a ripple effect on support industries and businesses, adding to the number of unemployed and subtracting from the number of possible openings.

3. Focus

Automation has today penetrated nearly every aspect of our lives. We work in offices where customers are routed to departments via computerized phone systems, emails are automatically sent when we’re away from our desks, and bank accounts are instantaneously hedged against currency fluctuations. But as automation becomes more common, the risks that our attention spans will fail have risen. In the age of automation, knowing how to manage your focus is more critical than ever before. We can learn techniques to get better at toggling between relaxation and concentration, but they require practice and a desire to remain engaged.

If you need to improve focus and learn to avoid distractions, take a moment to visualize, with as much detail as possible, what you are about to do. It is easier to know what’s ahead when there’s a well rounded script inside your head.

Join a project in its infancy. The beginning of a project is more information rich.

There is a lot of talk around whether open-spaces work. In a recent article by Harvard University, it detailed that open-spaces do not work and actually “face-to-face interactions dropped by roughly 70% after the firms transitioned to open offices, while electronic interactions increased to compensate”.

If you are in an open-office and you do wish to focus, try listening to some music while you work which may help in focussing.

4. Goal Setting

Set out a goal of how you want an objective to be achieved. I had a simple routine of always noting down the tasks for the next day which I deemed achievable and then setting out to do them the next day. I would list the most difficult task as the first on my priority list.

5. Have the right people on the team

You must have the right people on the team in order for you to successfully embark on your journey. Not having the right members on your team can distract you from reaching your assigned goal. It is important from the outset to make sure that your team members goals are aligned to yours to avoid any distractions along the way.

6. Make it on your time

Set the schedule. Make sure you are able to arrange the meetings at your convenience. Give two options, either 11 am or 3 pm so that you are able to work productively to provide the results. If you are being pushed into meetings at timings which are undesirable for you, you will not perform at your best and your work will be affected.

7. Work Smarter not Harder

There is a lot of focus on working hard, however you are able to work smarter and not necessarily harder to achieve the desired results by making use of technology. Use tools to work collaboratively so that the work does not get lost in translation and there is a back and forth of emails.

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