My #1 Productivity Tool May Surprise You

by | BiggerPockets.com

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?

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Productivity

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.

landlord-lessons

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.

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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.

Explosion

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.

Unexpected Benefits

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.

life-on-half-income

Related: 7 New Self-Development Books That Might Just Change Your Life

Drawbacks

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.

Conclusion

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!

About Author

Brad Lohnes

In 2013 Brad awoke from lifelong financial slumber and took responsibility for his family’s financial future. His primary vehicle for wealth-building is buy-and-hold real estate. He is passionate about financial education and helping others learn the tools they need to take control of their money. Brad believes there is nothing more empowering than self-reliance.

19 Comments

  1. Nick Moser

    Good post Brad. I have mostly stayed away from audiobooks since I am a visual learner and I take more in when actually reading the book. But, my list of books I want to read is so long, I might have to give this a try. Thanks for the insight.

    • Brad Lohnes

      Hi, Nick. Thanks for that. Glad you enjoyed it. To be honest, I thought that I wouldn’t like audiobooks either. That’s why I mentioned the drawbacks – they are real. But as I said, it turns out the upside dwarfs the downside. 🙂 Thanks for reading.

  2. Kevin Leonce

    I use audiobooks as well. I absolutely agree that non fiction books really grabs your attention and if the narrator’s delivery is not good it can be very irritating and make you miss what the author was really trying to say, thus, having to go back to that specific part. Thanks for the article.

  3. Alex Sanfilippo

    Brad, this is an awesome post man! Very well written with a solid message. It sounds like we are pretty similar in the way we think from what I pull from this post.

    Readers are leaders!

    In 2016 one of my major goals was to become more disciplined to be productive in the areas which I would experience growth. In the past year I’ve grown more than ever before. I have multiple businesses and all of which are doing better than they previously were doing.

    Thanks again man! Solid post today.

  4. Patrick Liska

    Brad,
    Nice article, this i could read. I am more a visual person and find it very tough to read through books, i never could. I usually find myself dozing off mid way through a chapter. I can read articles, magazines with no problems. I have even listen to audio books but found the same drawbacks as you have. I need a short, direct approach to explaining things without having to go through many pages. Maybe if it was displayed as short cartoons it would be a lot easier for me – Haha. I have finished some Ebooks that i have on my tablet and they help at learning what i want to know. I think that’s what makes Bigger pockets such a good place to learn, they have these blogs, podcasts and webinars which make it very easy to learn.

    • Brad Lohnes

      Hi, Patrick. I agree that having the visual aspect in front of you – diagrams, tables, etc. – gets missed when using audiobooks. Shorter formats are also very useful for quick hits. What I like about audiobooks is that my eyes and hands are free to do other things (like drive the car). Even ebooks can’t offer this. There are advantages to all formats, of course. For audiobooks, it’s volume and time travel! 🙂

  5. Jake Cox

    Brad, thanks for the great post. I’m in the same boat as you and have been finding myself listening to audiobooks way more than I read nowadays. They’re great in so many ways. With that said, have you listened to anything recently you would recommend (RE or non-RE)? I’m always looking for new recommendations and would love to hear some of yours.

    • Brad Lohnes

      Hi, Jake. Thanks for reading and leaving feedback! Recommendations are hard because it depends what you’ve already read. Most of the really good ones are more on the personal finance side. So far, the RE-specific ones don’t seem to be as good as the books you can get here on BP + podcasts. I just completed PersonalMBA, which is a few years old but contains a lot of info and terminology useful for starting a small business. Reading Unshakeable by Tony Robbins right now. It’s pretty much about investing in mutual funds (or not) and the pros/cons. Reserving judgment… 🙂

  6. Nicholas Candaffio

    Thanks Brad.

    Definitely agree about how the narrator can sometimes get in the way. Michael Gerber narrates most of his own books on Audible which is normally a plus. But in his case he speaks painfully slow and sounds like he’s uttering his dying breath with every sentence. It’s really tough to listen to for long periods of time.

    • Brad Lohnes

      Hi, Nicholas. Thanks for reading and leaving your feedback. Yes, I’ve had a couple of books ruined by a bad narrator. Some I’ve just had to tolerate. But the narrator can also make the book great. It’s usually quite good if the author is also the narrator because you get a better sense of their personality and of course they know the material better than a professional narrator would.

  7. Terry Sykora

    My wife and I listen to fiction audiobooks on cross country trips, and at home when relaxing. I listen to non-fiction books in the car; while it’s a great way to squeeze in more reading, the biggest drawback I find is the inability to skim and scan. I seldom read a non-profit book from start to finish, or at least not linearly.

    • Brad Lohnes

      Hi, Terry. I agree about the skimming and scanning. I sometimes have to re-listen to a chapter when I get home if I’m after a specific point. But I do tend to give the books a listen all the way through, often more than once.

  8. Jerome Kaidor

    I once had a long commute. I decided to learn something. I got a set of Spanish language CDs, and spent about 500 hours listening and repeating in the pauses while cruising up the freeway. Got my Spanish up to a *useful* level, where I can interface with workers, rent out apartments etc.
    Language learning turned that dead time into useful time.

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