Have you ever felt stuck? I mean the logjam kind of stuck—like too many logs in a fixed width of river, you have too many important things to do in a 24-hour day. You know you need a change to break up the jam and move forward, but you can never seem to find the time to figure out what to change. That’s the issue—time.
Time is our most limited resource.
Let me ask you another question: What is the most valuable tip anyone has ever given you? Maybe a stock tip? A recommendation to get into real estate investing? A career path? Perhaps a health tip?
The best tip I ever received has allowed me to bend the space-time continuum. Not bad, right?
Productivity is a key trait of successful people. This makes sense; everybody has 24 hours in a day to work with, yet some people achieve far more than others. Perhaps this is why there are always new tools and programs to try to make us more productive.
Honestly, when someone starts talking about productivity and efficiency, I feel tired. Of course I like to perform, but you can’t perform at your peak all the time.
PEP—the Personal Efficiency Program—came to my workplace to teach us more efficient ways of working. There were some really good tools in there. But we are creatures of habit; it is difficult to adopt new habits for long if we don’t completely buy into them.
From day planners to running efficient meetings to categorizing your work into quadrants of importance vs. urgency, there are so many ways to squeeze more of the good stuff out of you.
But output isn’t the thing that gets squeezed most by time constraints. When we feel pressured, we don’t cut the work from our days. We cut the time we need to reflect and expand our minds. We cut the time to learn new and better ways to live our lives.
The greatest productivity tool I’ve come across doesn’t try to squeeze anything out of me at all. Instead, it squeezes more into me—in the same amount of time.
Food for Thought
I love to read. My mother had an obsession with books, and I inherited that trait. At one point, I was trying to put together a mini-library of the classics all in hardbound volumes. I think this had something to do with a notion I had of wanting to be “well-read.” Having studied engineering, in my 20s I felt like I needed to broaden my mind. In any event, I had piles and piles of books. There was probably nothing more enjoyable to me than having some quiet time to get lost in a book.
But then a strange thing happened: I had kids. From the very start, I seemed to lose the power to concentrate on a book for more than a paragraph at a time. Suddenly, it took months to complete a book that would have taken a few evenings of light reading in the past. Even on holidays, I could no longer relax enough to put my feet up and be carried away.
I was at work, wondering aloud whether I’d begun some kind of descent into illiteracy, when a co-worker passed along one of the greatest tips I’ve ever received. She said these two profound words: “Try audiobooks.”
At first I wasn’t sure whether this was a legitimate solution or evidence of the decline of modern civilization. But I decided to give it a try.
Failure is a Part of Success
I hated it. On a long drive, I tried to listen to a novel. I got lost. The story line kept getting away from me, and I got annoyed when I couldn’t stop and rewind it without driving into a ditch. (Seriously, if you’re listening while driving, press start before you begin driving and get headphones with an easy-to-reach pause button.)
Anyway, after two or three novels, I was ready to let it go as a failed experiment. Then it occurred to me that perhaps it was what I was listening to. I’m not sure whether everyone has the same experience: My brain struggles to mix certain kinds of tasks. For example, when I was in school, I would listen to music while doing math or physics, but I couldn’t have any music playing at all if I had to read or write. (I am writing this right now in total silence.)
So, I downloaded a “self-help” book, one I’d read years before but I thought might be worth another try. It was The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, noted productivity expert. Rather fitting.
It turned out that I can’t be active—for example driving, mowing the lawn, or exercising at the gym—and follow a fictional story line.
But non-fiction? My brain eats it up while doing those activities.
After that, I really got into it.
Successful people read. Some at a prolific rate, such as the 50 books per year Bill Gates reportedly consumes. In the first year and a half or so of being a parent, I’d read three or four parenting books. Success was not assured.
But in the next four years, I’d listened to 67 different books. While my pace is slower than Bill Gates, I have listened to many of the books several times—some of the best 3, 4, 5 or even 6 times. I get more out of them each time. How often do you take the time to re-read a book that many times? Because you can do it during time that would otherwise be non-productive, you actually have the time to do so.
It even makes me a better driver. See, if I’m on my way home, I just want to get there. Maybe the light turns yellow, and I speed up to get through the intersection. I’m telling you, when I’m in the middle of a fascinating book, there’s no hurry. Now I slow down, stop at the light, and get a few more paragraphs in before I get home.
It makes my yard look nicer. I’m keen to get out and mow the lawn or pull weeds or paint the fence with my earphones in just to grab another chapter.
It makes me healthier. I love getting to the gym or out for a walk—if not for the exercise, then at least to listen uninterrupted to a couple more chapters.
This is where the time-warp happens. I’m doing this volume of reading without actually setting aside any time for it. I’m not just “multi-tasking”, which involves context switching. I am actually doing two things at once—like a parallel universe or alternate dimension or something.
Time travel does have certain wrinkles.
The primary issue with audiobooks is that it’s a lot harder to re-read a section that seems important. If you’re driving in your car especially, forget convenience: It’s not even safe to try to unlock your phone and back up to the critical spot. I nearly fell off a treadmill once—it would have been really painful, particularly to my ego. I didn’t foresee reading as a dangerous activity.
Sometimes you want to take notes. Mowing the lawn is not a convenient time for note-taking.
Every now and then, the narrator of a book can be really off-putting. Sometimes the writer’s style and the content is good, but the delivery is irritating.
These drawbacks seem important. But they pale in comparison to the quantum increase in material that can be consumed.
Books are full of new ideas. Ideas like pay yourself first, buy assets, generate passive income, and achieve financial independence. All of these ideas came to me through my earphones, as did the following classic:
“We become what we think about.” —Earl Nightengale.
And I have. Because of audiobooks, I have turned my life around. I developed a new life philosophy. I took control of our finances. I started investing in real estate. I learned better methods of parenting. I studied writing. I developed new leadership skills. I am trying to become a better person.
I have not read any classics. No system is perfect.
Do you use audiobooks in your daily life? What single technology has changed your productivity for the better?
Let me know your thoughts with a comment!