Start Your Day as a Producer, Not a Consumer

One of the big obstacles that I faced – and still face, to some degree – when I began working full-time was restructuring my every day routine. See, for about 16 years from kindergarten to the end of college, I would spend the morning and afternoon learning things, and then go home and work at night. I essentially conditioned myself to be in a passive state during the day, soaking up what others talked about or mindlessly taking notes in class. I was generally not one of those people who did much work at school.

In college, I took this model to the extreme. I would rarely wake up before noon, head to class, and would have the most energy around 4-5pm. I did my best studying and work in the evenings.

Unfortunately, this model doesn’t work too well in the real world. I’ve had to retrain myself to do work during the day. This was by no means an easy task, but one change in my daily routine helped me get on the right path.

Most of us have two modes: producer or consumer. The trick is to start your day as a producer, rather than a consumer. What this means is doing productive, beneficial tasks that are meaningful first thing in the morning, as opposed to checking and responding to email/social media. It doesn’t necessarily have to be work, although tackling your to-do list is great. It could be exercising, meditating, writing on your blog, cooking, etc.

The point is it should be an active activity. Passive activities like scrolling your newsfeed and skimming the news should be avoided. It’s about being proactive, rather than reactive. It’s knowing that you’re in control of your life, and are focusing on your needs first.

For me, I’ve found that journaling and writing first thing in the morning has been the most beneficial. For many others, it’s exercise. Whatever it is, once you repeat this routine long enough, it becomes one of those keystone habits that lock all your other productive habits into place.

On the days where I get something big accomplished right away, the rest of the day is that much more productive. The distractions that were once tempting feel like a waste of time. I can actually catch myself browsing Facebook, asking myself What am I doing?, and then closing the tab.

On the off days where I start off as a consumer, I’m trapped in that vortex of endlessly surfing Reddit or Elite Daily (is this you right now?) trying to fill a void, trying desperately to entertain myself but never feeling satisfied.

In fact, I’m convinced now that how you spend your morning is indicative of how you’ll spend the rest of the day, and there may be some science behind this. It’s hard to shift from the shallower, more transactional frontal cortex to the other parts of your brain that govern conceptual, deep thinking. It’s easier to start in the deep recesses of the brain and shift to the shallower parts. What this means is it’s easier to go from producer mode to consumer mode than vice versa.

And by starting your morning off doing something you enjoy, you elevate your mood for the rest of the day, which then positively impacts everything else you do.

All of the most successful people I know and have read about share this philosophy of starting their day off with an important, focused project.

There’s a great story about Charlie Munger that exemplifies this. As a very young lawyer, he was probably getting $20 an hour. He thought to himself, ‘Who’s my most valuable client?’ And he decided it was himself. So he decided to sell himself an hour each day. He did it early in the morning, working on construction projects and real estate deals. Over time, this one hour of self-learning compounded and ultimately allowed him to race past his peers.

OK, you’ve consumed enough of this. Try it for yourself. Start your mornings as a producer. You may be surprised at the difference it makes.

Experts

It’s amazing how much we trust “experts,” given how infallible they are sometimes.

In December 2000, the majority of investment banks forecasted that by the end of 2001 the dollar and the euro would be about equal in value. This list included Credit Suisse, Bank of Tokyo, RBC, UBS, and Deutsche Bank. The real exchange rate at the end of 2001 was only $0.88. Every bank overestimated.

In compensation for their overestimates the year before, the banks uniformly corrected their predictions downward. But the euro went up; the true exchange rate was 1.05, higher than any of the banks had foreseen. Surprised by the upward trend, the banks corrected their forecasts upward for 2003. Once again, the actual exchange rate was outside the range of estimates.

This continued on until 2010. Almost every year, the actual rate was outside the predicted rate.

Why do banks pay large amounts to entire departments for these meaningless predictions? For one, there’s an element of defensive decision making, where senior managers can point and say, “Well, this is what our mathematical models said would happen. It’s not our fault.” But two, there continues to be a large enough demand for these predictions that they’re supplied. Humans place an inordinate amount of trust in experts, and even desperately seek them out, so banks maintain the illusion.

The truth is anyone can become a market guru. Roger Babson is credited with correctly predicting the stock market crash of 1929, but what is less known is that he had been predicting the crash for years. Of course, no one remembered those misses after he was right once. Elaine Garzarelli predicted the stock market collapse in 1987, and four days later it really did crash. She became known as the Guru of Black Monday, but thereafter, her predictions about the market were right less often than a coin toss.

Warren Buffett often gives the following example: Consider 10,000 investment managers whose advice is equal to flipping a coin. After a year, 5,000 of them will have made a profit. The next year, 2500, and so on. After ten years, about ten managers will have gotten it right every single year. We would classify these ten people as gurus, attributing such a feat to their unique, deep insights of the market and some innate talent.

In my undergrad businesses school, we took a lot of complex finance classes teaching us the intricacies of portfolio optimization, where you have a chunk of money and want to invest it in a diversified portfolio. In the academic world, this involves fairly complex formulas and a host of assumptions to deal with. The professors promised us it would all come in handy on the job.

Well, it turns out there’s a one-line sentence that trumps all of these strategies, even beating a Nobel Prize-winning portfolio strategy. It’s this: Allocate your money equally to each of N funds. 

In a study, this rule of thumb was compared to a dozen complex investment methods. Seven situations were analyzed. In six of the seven tests, 1/N scored better than the others, and none of the other twelve were consistently better at predicting the future value of stocks.

The Nobel Prize-winning method isn’t a sham, it’s just that we live in a world of unknowns and uncertainties that can’t possibly be quantified in assumptions. Experts will tell you otherwise, but really, what is an expert?

Whose Fault Is It?

You’re 6 years old, playing with the class teddy bear. Your friend, who is also 6, comes up to you and asks to play with you. You don’t want to share your toy, so you say no. He grabs Teddy and begins tugging. You do the same. As the laws of physics would have it, Teddy rips.

The teacher comes running in and yells, “Whose fault is this?” and you and your friend both point at each other. Both of you concoct stories of the event, and the teacher spends an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out whose story is more true.

Whose fault is it? It’s a classic question parents and teachers ask children whenever something bad happens.

What purpose does this question serve – and could it even be a hazardous thing to say to a child? Seemingly, it trains children to find faults in anywhere but themselves, assigning blame to others and external factors. As these kids grow up, they continue along this path, blaming others for their own shortcomings. Personal responsibility is shunned.

Asking whose fault something is is almost like unnecessarily dwelling in the past. In the example above, it makes no difference who actually broke the class teddy bear. Both parties were probably responsible to a degree. It’s much more effective to consider the options going forward. What can you do to prevent this from happening in the future? What lessons can be taken away from the incident? Why did the mistake occur?

Thinking along these lines can save you a lot of energy trying to frivolously figure out who was right or wrong or good or bad. You also begin to stop looking for the victim in every situation, instead assigning everyone some degree of responsibility.

Taking personal responsibility for things gone awry, owning up to your mistakes, and being vulnerable are rare traits in people, precisely why those that exhibit these traits actually garner respect.

Just imagine these scenarios. If the CEO of your company took responsibility for the company’s problems instead of blaming others, wouldn’t you like him more? If your doctor told you she had screwed up a procedure, instead of trying to cover it up, wouldn’t you appreciate her honesty? If a politician revealed that their policy proposals had failed, wouldn’t you be more likely to trust him?

Objectively examining our own mistakes isn’t easy. Because we see the world from our own perspective, even our mistakes make sense from our perspective. When we screw up, it’s because of XYZ reasons. When others screw up, it’s because they’re stupid.

Instead of looking for faults and trying to blame the government, society, or your parents, look within yourself. Try to take the outside view. Embrace your failings. It’s much better to accept you’re bigoted and try to improve than sleepwalk through life ignorant to the fact. Failure to take responsibility for your own life almost guarantees your staganation in life.

Writing Should Be Personal

For a long time, I’ve struggled to write anything too personal because I was afraid of the consequences of doing so. What if someone I know reads this? What if my boss finds out? I avoided publishing any of these posts, or when I did, I distorted them in a way that reflected positively on me.

But how can writing be good without a personal element? Writing is the process of turning the inner thoughts in your unconscious mind into concrete, coherent words on paper. Good writing should therefore be one of the most personal things you do.

They say that everyone has a unique voice and ought to be sharing their story. I believe this, and also believe everyone has something interesting to say.

The problem is most people are afraid to share the inner workings of themselves to the public. We’re so used to hiding behind the facade we put out to the world that we’ve lost the ability to be ourselves, even on our own blogs. We fear the judging eyes of others as we lay ourselves bare on paper. Coming to terms with this fear, however, may be a necessity.

In the fabulous book If You Want to Write, Brenda Ueland encourages writers not shy away from using “I” in their writing.

Now to have things alive and interesting it must be personal, it must come from the “I”: what I know and feel. For that is the only great and interesting thing. That is the only truth you know, that nobody else does.

The most interesting kind of articles to read are those that show vulnerability. I look to James Altucher for advice here. He says he never publishes a post unless he feels scared to do so. Sometimes he’s even afraid he’s shared too much to the world. He tries to bleed every time he writes by sharing the darkest and worst moments he’s experienced.

Ultimately, this is how people relate to you through your writing. Everyone has gone through their own struggles, and everyone is simply trying their best to be happy. The feelings that make us human are universal. Conveying these feelings in your writing is how you get people to care.

You can learn a lot about someone through their writing, perhaps more than you ever could through conversation alone. I’ve been able to learn more about some of my friends through their blogs, and it’s strengthened our relationship. I’ve even met people solely through reading their blogs because I knew we operated on the same wavelength. This was only possible because they put themselves out there.

At the end of the day, good writing has to be a reflection of your inner self. Good writing can’t be faked. Beneath any words you read is the personality of the writer himself. Whatever that personality is will eventually shine through. Even if the words themselves tell one story, you can tell if the writer’s true self does not coincide with their message. You can deceive people vocally and even in-person, but you simply cannot deceive people for long through extensive writing.

Internet Scams

When I was 13, I saw a post on a forum about an easy way to make $20 a day in 20 minutes. I figured why not. I downloaded the free pdf, read it, and got to work.

The method was essentially me pretending to be a female looking for desperate men. It worked like this:

Post an ad on Craigslist pretending to be a girl looking for a date. Setup an autoresponder email to reply to anyone who messaged you forwarding them a link to some dating site with your profile. When they signed up and paid, hoping to land a date with you, you’d get paid a commission.

Surprisingly, it actually worked. I spent about five minutes a day just posting ads up on Craigslist for a couple weeks. At the end of the month, I actually passed the threshold point to receive a check for my earnings.

I came home from school one day, and my dad handed me a check for a couple hundred bucks. He looked at me weird. Eventually he asked why it was from “XXX Entertainment Inc.” or something along those lines – and yep, there it was, bold and center. I lied and said it was just an edgy company. I don’t think he believed me, because a week later he cautioned me about watching porn.

Why did I just tell you that story?

To caution you about getting scammed. I’ve come across a lot of “lifestyle design” blogs recently. These blogs all espouse the themes of living abroad, working remotely, earning passive income, and living the dream. Nothing new, but these types of blogs have always irked me.

Most of them are frauds.

Maybe they do live abroad, work remotely, and yes, even earn a little passive income. But my estimate is the vast majority of them are not living the dream. They’re faking it till they make it – which is fine. But they’re selling people products that promise “the dream” when they themselves aren’t living it.

The funny thing is the secret formula of many of these products is to start your own website selling “the dream” for others. So you have all of these people selling information products about how to teach others how to sell information products. Very meta.

Some of these “passive income” methods are so shady they border on fraud. An example includes selling books that you’ve outsourced the writing process to India for. You hire cheap labor to write 10-20 pages on how to lose weight, package it up, and publish it on Amazon. You do this for a hundred different topics, and let the dimes (literally) roll in.

The above method would really only provide you enough money to live in a developing country, which is why so many of these lifestyle entrepreneurs live abroad. They have to.

Like all get rich quick methods though, this method of selling outsourced books won’t work anymore after a period of time. So these same entrepreneurs will then create another product describing their secret formula on how to earn passive income, describing the now obsolete method. The launch of this product is the real money-maker

There are a million of these kooky ways to make money online. Most of them are scams, looking to take advantage of you.

So be careful who you listen to online. It can be very easy to fall in love with a dream someone is trying to sell you on. The love of your life might even turn out to be a 13-year old boy.

Some Much-Needed Brutal Honesty

My girlfriend just called me out.

She said I wasn’t hustling or working hard enough to achieve my goals, specifically waking up earlier.

I couldn’t deny it. It’s true, I have been slacking. And it’s clear that my girlfriend has a front row seat to my current lack of integrity. I said I would do something, and I haven’t. I’m not being true to my word. And if I haven’t been true to my word in this case, it’s unclear what she can count on me for in the future.

So what’s the consequence? Well, I feel shame, for one. Not only to myself, but to her, who wants to see nothing but the best for me. And when she saw that I hadn’t made enough of an effort, she was bold enough to call me out on it.

It’s not easy to objectively look at ourselves, but it’s absolutely essential if we want to improve. It’s tough, though, hearing something like that about yourself. The words sting at you. All sorts of mental barriers came up and excuses instantly popped into my head about the external factors that prevented me from doing what I said I would. I ignored the temptation to justify my lack of integrity, however. I simply allowed the pain of knowing I was in the wrong wash over me.

I needed the tough love, and I appreciated hearing it. It’s not often in life that someone will directly tell you about your personal weaknesses, allowing you to improve on them. We hate hearing bad news about ourselves, and our first instinct is to avoid it. Even when we do confront it, we try to explain it away or downplay it, like I almost did with my excuses ready at hand.

When my girlfriend finished her spiel, we were both relieved. Of course I knew that I hadn’t been achieving my goal of waking up earlier, but I hadn’t realized the impact of not staying true to my word. I came to terms with the fact that I had failed thus far, knew what I had to do going forward, and had an accountability partner. My girlfriend was relieved that I had really listened to her, and saw that I wasn’t going to take the easy way out by abdicating from my word.

No one said NY’s resolutions were easy. Here’s to leaning into the pain.

Why Do Anything If We’re All Going to Die?

I was watching a TED talk on YouTube when I scrolled too far down and ventured into the comments cesspool, coming across the following heavily upvoted comment.

“To be honest, we’re all dead anyway, it doesn’t matter what you achieve in life at all, the second you die you’ll instantly become unaware you ever achieved it or that you ever existed and lived your life in the first place, so stop taking it so seriously, ultimately you’ll forget it ever happened, in just six decades most of the people this talk is directed towards will be gone, their achievements might remain, but they won’t be aware of them remaining so why should they care?”

This commenter was trying to convince us why we shouldn’t bother striving for success. Why bother doing anything if in the end we’re all going to die and no one will remember us? Life is meaningless, so why exert effort into achieving anything?

I’m sure most of us have entertained similar existential thoughts at some point in our lives, however briefly. The problem is, if you hold this belief and and truly believe it, you’re almost guaranteeing a life of mediocrity and complacency.

If you don’t believe something matters in life, you’re pushing it out of your life. If you don’t believe flossing matters, your dental hygiene routine won’t include flossing. If you said to your girlfriend, I don’t think you’re important, you won’t have a girlfriend for long after. So when you say, it doesn’t matter what you achieve in life at all, you’re essentially distancing yourself from achieving anything in life. You see this in practice when people say, I don’t think money is important. Chances are, the person saying that has a lack of money and always will.

If nothing matters in this world, if no one will remember you eventually, in a sense, does that not provide you with the reins to do anything you want? If nothing is worth doing, then something is just as easily worth doing as well. And if something is worth doing, then you might as well make that something extraordinary.

Perhaps Chuck Palahniuk said it best when he said, “We all die. The goal isn’t to live forever, it’s to create something that will.” An honorable goal would be to leave the world in a better place than you found it. Sure, maybe you won’t actually ever achieve historical greatness in your life. Few people do. But to give up without trying and asking why bother guarantees your insignificance.

Finally, consider this analogy: if you were given a piece of cake and told you could eat it, would you question the purpose of eating the cake if it would run out eventually? Of course not. Scarcity doesn’t make it any less enjoyable – in fact, it may even add to the pleasure. And so it is with life.

Why Ideas Are Worthless, and Why Competition Is Good

In university, a number of friends and I got together to start a business. We didn’t have any idea what we’d create, but we figured we could collectively brainstorm something. We called our little project Project Alpha. Looking back, it’s humorous how little we knew and how unprepared we were.

We never made it past the first hurdle, because we kept stumbling over this one issue: all our supposedly unique and innovative ideas we’d brainstormed had already been done. There were already other products out there that did the same thing we wanted to do.

We scrapped every idea we looked at, and continued moving down the idea list. To no surprise, pretty soon we had exhausted all of our ideas. We had completely failed in our minds, and we thought it wasn’t meant to be. The group never officially disbanded, but it gradually faded away thereafter.

We were clueless.

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8 Takeaways From Hiring People

I recently posted a job on Indeed.com looking to hire someone for a portfolio company of our firm’s. I was responsible for going through the applications, whittling them down, and conducting the initial interviews.

I learned quite a bit from this experience. All of a sudden, many aspects of the traditional hiring process made sense to me. Here are some of my takeaways.

It’s true, employers are flooded with resumes.
For this job, I received over 200 applications in less than a week – and I posted the job around Christmas. There was no way I could have sifted through each resume carefully, trying to find golden nuggets. I had to create a system to filter through them quickly. For this position, I quickly looked at the applicant’s current and previous job titles – if it matched, good. I then narrowed down candidates by determining if they had any experience in the particular industry we were hiring for. Finally, I looked to see if the candidate showed any creativity in their cover letter or resume (important for this position, not always true).

This is why you want your resume to be free of typos, formatted correctly, and look presentable. You want to give yourself the best chance possible, and all else equal, a poorly formatted resume with typos will be rejected over a more pristine one. I’ve heard that the average employer only looks at a resume for 7 seconds, and I found this to be relatively true. It’s crucially important for applicants to make it clear why they’re perfect for the position and how their experience backs that up as quickly as possible.

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Do the Opposite

“But everyone else is doing it!”
“But everyone else has one!”
“But everyone else thinks so!”

I would whine and use these phrases as a kid whenever I tried to convince my parents to let me go to a party or stay up later or buy me a new toy. They were my go-to phrases, in fact, because I thought if all my friends were doing something, it had to be right…right?

I’ve since realized how wrong (and bratty) I was, and how bad of a general principle this is. If my future kid ever used the same argument, I would 100% not agree to whatever his demand was.

The fact that everyone else is doing something means you should be very hesitant about following suit. Mark Twain once said whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it’s time to pause and reflect. I would add to that, to say pause, reflect, then strongly consider doing the opposite.  Continue reading