The Productivity Trick Used by Nick Saban and Tim Ferriss

Why is that we all have only 24 hours in a day, yet some of us achieve so much more than others with that 24 hours?

The key to understanding this starts with realizing that your time, energy, and focus are your most limited and valuable resources.

The Value of Time

Spending time is how you earn & spend money, develop & maintain relationships, become more or less healthy. Spending time on something is the source of everything you have today – good or bad.

You can lose money today and make it all back and then some later. The same is not true of your time.

It’s easy to focus on dollar amounts because they seem so tangible and they are so visible. We see a bank balance, we see bills, we get a W-2 from our employer showing our earnings. We see where our money came from, we see where it went.

We don’t receive a statement at year-end that says, “You began the year with 8,760 hours, you spent 1,823 hours at work this year, you spent 420 hours with your spouse, you spent 311 hours scrolling your Facebook feed, etc.”

The hard thing about time is that it’s very limited. There are many, many things vying a piece of your 24 hours each day and most of them are really just ways to waste your time.

The “Trick” to Time Management

Focus 100% of your time, energy, and focus on the things that you can control. Spend 0% of your time & energy on the things that you can’t control.

The default behavior for the average person is to spend the majority of their time and energy worrying over things they can’t control.

News, sports, gossip, decisions that are for others to make, such as our bosses or political leaders. Yes, even mindlessly scrolling Facebook on your phone for 15 minutes is burning precious time and brain cycles.

In addition to lost time & energy, these things we can’t control (politics, sports, etc.) can cause us stress. Stress further damages our ability to be productive and makes us unhappy.

When we focus on things we can control, we feel empowered. When we focus on things we can’t control, we feel powerless.

The lesson that high performers teach us is that those who tune out the distractions and get focused can achieve amazing results. When you dig into high performers and their habits, laser-like focus is the most commonly shared behavior among all different types of high performers.

Why do high performers achieve more in 24 hours than the average person?

  1. They “create” time & energy for themselves by not wasting their limited time & energy on things that they can’t control. They aren’t wasting an hour a day (365 hours per year – feels a little different when you look at the year number) on Facebook.
  2. Because they are focused 100% on the things that they control, they develop a mindset of confidence. They don’t feel like helpless bystanders watching other people do things. This makes them more prone to take action (click here for more on the power of taking action) in the future.

Diverse Example #1 – Zen California Entrepreneur

Author Tim Ferriss details this “focus” philosophy in his book, The Four-Hour Workweek. This idea is, in many ways, the core idea in Ferriss’ productivity system.

Ferriss encourages avoidance of media which has no impact on your goals. To have good ideas and to be productive, we must “turn down the noise”, Ferriss warns us. Ferriss was warning us of this way back in 2008, the noise has only cranked up in the 10+ years since 2008.

Diverse Example #2 – Hard-Driving Southern Football Coach

At the other end of the spectrum from author/entrepreneur Ferriss, we have University of Alabama Football Coach Nick Saban.

Focusing only on what you can control is the cornerstone of the system that Saban calls “The Process”. The Process has netted Saban multiple national championships and has made Alabama into the most dominant college football dynasty in decades.

The only media consumed by Saban is 10 minutes of the Weather Channel each morning while having coffee with this wife. When asked about the 2016 Presidential Election the day after the election, Saban answered that he “didn’t even know that yesterday was Election Day”. He didn’t appear to be joking. It’s not a coincidence that this was in the middle of football season.

Saban is also the same man who, in 2006, famously skipped dinner with President George W. Bush because his Dolphins team had practice (not a game) that night.

Saban continually coaches his players to think only about the current play, the present moment. He tells them not to think about what the score is or what the outcome of the game is. For Saban, it is all about complete and total focus only on what you can control at this very moment.

The Power of Focus

In Ryan Holiday’s words in The Obstacle is the Way:

Focusing exclusively on what is in our power magnifies and enhances our power. But, every ounce of energy directed at things we can’t actually influence is wasted… So much power – ours and other people’s – is frittered away in this manner.

What are the things you can can control? “Our emotions, our judgments, our creativity, our attitude, our perspective, our desires, our decisions, our determination” according to Holiday.

The things you can’t control? Who is President, who won the Broncos game, what Kim Kardashian did today. Quit opening the news app. Unfollow those noisy folks on Facebook that are going on and on about these things. Turn off notifications for non-essential apps.

There are less obvious things we can’t control that can sap our time & energy. You can’t control if the customer accepts your proposal. You can only control giving the best proposal possible. If you are part of a team pursuing a goal, you can’t always control if your team achieves the goal or not. But, you can control whether or not you gave your best effort.

Even in your own life, you can only control your end of the deal. Focus your time and energy on that. Focus in on the things that you can control. Leave the rest. Simple, but, by no means easy.

Eliminate Distraction, Focus In

Your career, your family, your friends, your dreams, your happiness and fulfillment are the things that deserve your time and energy.

The events that our society watches from afar and talks endlessly about will only waste your time and energy away. The same goes for burning time and energy worrying over the choices that are up to others to make.

If you tune these things out and focus 100% on what you can control, you will seem unusual to many people. But, those who are the most successful always seem unusual to everyone else.

We used the above images in accordance with the Wikimedia Commons license.

Don’t Compromise with Your Haters, Double Down with Your Fans

Many were stunned by the surprise announcement of the closing of Ringling Brothers’ “Greatest Show on Earth” Circus. Animal rights activists targeted the circus in the years leading up to its closure for the circus’ treatment of its animals. In 2016, Ringling Brothers’ quit using elephants in its shows after years of legal battles, but, what happened next (according to this Chicago Tribune article) outlines an important principle that will change the way you look at your life and your business:

…when the elephants left, there was a “dramatic drop” in ticket sales. Paradoxically, while many said they didn’t want big animals to perform in circuses, many others refused to attend a circus without them.

I’m going to stay out of taking sides in this animal rights issue, what I want to look is the broader lesson of the unfortunate fate of Ringling Brothers.

The Takeaway

The lesson is a simple one: the people who are criticizing you or your business are almost never going to be your customers or your fans even if you give in to what they want from you.

Appeasing your haters won’t gain you their favor or their business. They don’t like you. They weren’t and aren’t going to do business with you. If you water down yourself or your product to please your haters, it may actually cost you the favor of your fans, the people who actually do really like you.

In the case of Ringling Brothers, the circus was left little choice but to compromise due to legal pressures. But, as long as your haters are not dragging you through court, you have much more freedom in responding to your haters than Ringling Brothers.

You can choose to listen to haters and water down yourself or water down your product. Or, you can double down with your fans.

You can change yourself or your offering to attempt to make fans out of those who don’t like you. Or, you could just try to find more people who are like your fans.

Chasing the Uncatchable

If Alice Cooper had quit biting the heads off of bats would the disgusted parents have begun attending his shows? If N.W.A. had quit using profanity in their songs, would censorship activists have begun purchasing their rap albums? Or, if cigarette companies changed their marketing tactics, would critics begin smoking?

The answers to all these questions are obvious. But, how many times do we do the same thing in our lives or businesses? How often do we kowtow to criticism (or simple fear of criticism) expecting that to make us more appealing? The fact is that appealing to all different groups and interests simultaneously is simply not possible.

In fact, trying to be everything to everyone is the path to being nothing to anyone. Double down with those who already like you and/or your product. Ignore your haters or, alternatively, your fans may even love to see you take a stand and roast your haters on social media. Feel out what is right for you and your circle.

But, be sure to build your future on a solid foundation with your fans, don’t ever make the classic mistake of trying to build a future on the sinking sand of criticism.


8 Powerful Tips for Entrepreneurs from Gary Vaynerchuk

In the #AskGaryVee book, Gary Vaynerchuk provides a quick hit list of his top tips for success. I love the list because it is to-the-point, actionable, and it sums up most of Gary’s philosophy into a compact, tactical package.

Gary’s original advice is in bold, my comments are in plain text next to the original points.

Gary Vaynerchuk’s Hit List

  1. Have shorter meetings. Go down from 1 hour meetings to 30 minute meetings. Then continue to push to shorten meetings more and more. Gary is down to 4 minute meetings. We all know meetings are a colossal waste of time and time is our most valuable resource. Start doing something about it. Maximize your productive time in the day, reduce your unproductive time.
  2. Don’t focus on things you can’t control. You can’t control who will be president or what the economy will do next month or who will win the Broncos game tomorrow. Focus on the things that your energy, your ideas, and your effort can have an effect on – your career, your family, your company, your friends.
  3. Don’t be afraid to break things. We waste a tremendous amount of time with endless discussions about whether a new idea is worth trying or not. Quit talking about it & make a decision. If the idea has merit, just try it. You can usually fix it later if it goes badly, sometimes you find something great. Making no decision is the same as making a decision.
  4. Don’t be romantic about your business. This is one of Gary’s staples and I love it. I run into so many business owners that won’t face the current reality because they want their business to be like it was 5 years ago. And, some of them are actively angry that the market has changed. None of this is healthy. It distracts from execution in the present and from what you need to do to be competitive in the future. The “good ole days” are gone, you might have more good days, but, they will look different.
  5. Don’t get slower because you think you “made it”. Once you make it, all eyes are on you, your competitors want what you have. If anything, it gets more demanding, not less. I’ve personally witnessed several individuals who have been ruined by taking the attitude that they “made it” or that their company or the market owes them something for their past success. The race is never over until you retire.
  6. Keep moving, don’t take a breather. Many people take a break because they feel that they “deserve it” because they did something good yesterday. Instead of doing that, how much more momentum could you have, how much more could you get done if you just kept going and kept pushing? Is there a more perfect example of this philosophy than Gary Vaynerchuk himself?
  7. Don’t go for perfection, it’s in the eye of the beholder. Another thought in the same vein as some others – speed and momentum matter a lot in business. You can’t afford to fritter time and capital away by making something “perfect”. In many cases, even if you think you have achieved perfection, you will have to change it later anyway because the market will disagree. “Done and pretty good” beats “unfinished, unreleased, and perfect” any day of the week.
  8. Speed kills in sports and business. The perfect summary of all the thoughts above. How many colossal companies have been killed simply because a small company could move faster than them? The colossal company was busy having 3 hour meetings, getting romantic about yesterday, being afraid to break things today, trying to build the “perfect” new product, and taking a breather from past successes… meanwhile, the new company, the fast company, takes the colossal company out before the big guy knew what hit him.

I highly recommend checking out Gary’s book #AskGaryVee if you want to read more of Gary’s philosophy on business. I also love Gary’s earlier book, Crush It!

Use Your Email Inbox as a Todo List

This is the simplest way that I have found to track todos sent to you in email. This tweak to how you use your email inbox will ensure that an important task in an email never slips through the cracks again and will boost your peace of mind and productivity.

I’ve been told by a number of friends & clients that this is my best productivity tip because it’s so simple to enact and a very high return on investment.

How to Manage Your Inbox

It’s really pretty simple. Just like it says in the title, just use your email inbox as a todo list. Don’t leave a message in your email inbox unless an action needs to be taken with the email. This is the key.

Everything that needs no further action taken is archived or moved to a different folder. At any given time, only a handful of emails should be in your inbox and you should be able to scroll just a little bit and see your entire inbox contents and get a feel for actions you need to take.

Now let’s look at how it works from a very tactical level.

First Steps – Setup

Use Archive to remove email messages instead of Delete. If you are using Gmail, you probably doing this already. If you are using something else, you may not.

You will be much more confident in clearing & managing your inbox if you know that a message moved out of the inbox is not gone forever, it’s moved to your Archive. You can use your email’s Archive function (Gmail moves messages to ‘All Mail’) or you can just move messages to a folder of your choosing. But, use Archive to get rid of messages instead of deleting them. Worst case, you can always search and find the message again one day.

Make sure to set your smartphone 0r tablet to Archive as well as your desktop client (again, default for most Gmail clients).

Create 3 email folders in addition to your Inbox:

  • To Do
  • Follow Up
  • To Read Someday

We will cover the use of these below.

Some Basic Processing Rules for Messages

Now we are ready to get started. There are really only 6 statuses of messages that can occur. The processing guidelines for all 6 of them are below.

  1. If you have not read an email and never plan to, archive it immediately.
  2. If you have not read an email and aren’t sure when you will (i.e. it’s not time-sensitive, maybe a newsletter or article), then move it to the”To Read Someday” folder. Can crack this folder open while waiting in a doctor’s office one day.
  3. If you have not read an email and plan to do so soon, leave it in your inbox.
  4. If you have read an email and action needs to be taken on the message, leave it in your inbox until you complete the action. When an action is a week or more in the future, then you can, optionally, move the message to the “To Do” folder to cut down on clutter in the inbox, but, this is up to you.
  5. If you have read an email and no action needs to be taken, however, you may need to follow up, move the message immediately to the “Follow Up” folder.
  6. If you have read an email and no action needs to be taken or the action has already been completed, archive it or, if you feel that followup might be needed (i.e. you asked someone to do something and want to make sure that they do it), move the message to the “Follow Up” folder.

The Most Important Part – The Review

Hold a review of your Inbox, To Do, and Follow Up folders weekly. You will often fall off in managing your Inbox during the craziness of the week. This is normal and expected. You don’t need to stress about managing your inbox every single day. This review is your chance to catch everything up.

Go through your Inbox during your Review and look at every message that remains. Then take the appropriate actions described above.

If you want to finish your Review with a completely empty Inbox, you can move “action to be taken” emails to your To Do folder rather than leaving in your Inbox.

I like to do Reviews on Friday afternoons. This sends me into the weekend with the feeling that I have reviewed everything on my plate. Ever get all caught up before vacation and leave with peace of mind? Doing this gives you that feeling every weekend.

However, you can do this any time of week that you like. Use a calendar event or reminder to so that you don’t forget, especially while you develop the habit.

“This sounds great, but, I already have thousands of messages in my inbox that have built up over years. How will I ever get caught up?”

Declare Inbox Bankruptcy. Go back 2 weeks, 2 months, or any time period you are comfortable with and Archive every email before that point. You can use some kind of “Select All” function to get this done quickly.

This gives you a manageable collection of emails to work through from the past few weeks. Most of those old emails are either long since dealt with or it’s too late to act on them anyway.

If you really want to make sure nothing slips through, also send an email to your contact saying:

My email inbox has become unmanageable due to a high volume of email and I have archived many of my old emails. If you are waiting on something from me and haven’t heard back, please send me another email. I’ve adopted a new email management system and I will make 100% sure that your request is processed this time.

All the best,


Bonus Tip – consider turning off notifications for new emails, as detailed in this post about how Notifications are probably silently killing your productivity.

How to Handle Calls from Numbers You Don’t Know

“Hi, I’m from the Warranty Center, I’m calling about your auto warranty”

If you’re like me or millions of other people, you may get several of these types of phone calls per week. It’s annoying and it interrupts your work or your time with family or friends. Here’s what you need to know about them.

The Case for *Never* Answering a Call From a Number You Don’t Know

Someone advised me recently to quit answering calls from any number that isn’t in my phone – just let those calls go to voicemail. This thought never really occurred to me before. It’s just human nature to answer a ringing phone.

But, the reasons to leave the call unanswered are pretty straightforward.

If you aren’t already expecting a call, and you get a call from a number that you don’t recognize, then one of the following is probably true:

  1. The call is from someone you don’t want to talk to at all or
  2. The call is from someone you do want to talk to, but, you weren’t expecting the call. You’re now talking to someone important at a time when you didn’t expect to.

In #1, as a best case, you wasted your time and interrupted what you were doing. We’ve covered previously the “death by a thousand cuts” problem of allowing too many tiny distractions into your day in another blog post.

In #2, you may now find yourself flatfooted talking to someone who you want to talk to, but, whom you were not expecting to hear from. This is a recipe for a “why did I say that?” moment.

If you just send the call to voicemail, the person you want to talk to will almost always leave a message and you can return the call prepared to talk to them. In the case of the person you don’t want to talk to, they will almost never leave a message in the first place.

How To Stop Getting Calls From Telemarketers Entirely

With that out of the way, you probably also want to reduce the number of times your phone rings unnecessarily in the first place.

To stop “legitimate” telemarketers, register your phone number with the Federal Trade Commission’s Do Not Call Registry at The FTC can fine telemarketers who continue to call you after the 31 day registration window. You can easily file a complaint online. Legitimate companies who use telemarketing will usually stop calling you once you are on this registry.

Little known bonus fact: Even if you were not on the call registry, you may still file a complaint if you received a telemarketing call that is a recording (or “robocall”).

To stop bill collectors from calling you, you can ask them to never to call you again and that specific bill collector is obligated to stop calling you. If they don’t stop, consider asking for their address and sending them a cease & desist letter. Note that this does nothing to eliminate any legitimate debt you may owe and could actually increase your chances of getting sued if you cutoff contact with the collector. If you are being contacted repeatedly by a bill collector for a debt you don’t feel you should or can pay, you should seek legal advice from an attorney.

To stop getting calls from the same phone number over and over, you can block a specific phone number from calling your phone. Instructions on doing this are below:

To block a number from calling your iPhone:

  1. Go to the Phone app and go the “Recents” tab.
  2. Click the small “i” on the right side of the number you want to block.
  3. Scroll down until you see “Block this Caller”, tap Block this Caller.
  4. You will see a prompt that says “You will not receive phone calls, messages, or FaceTime from people on the block list”. Tap Block Contact.
  5. That’s it!

To block a number from calling your Android phone:

  1. Go to your Phone app and go to your Call Log.
  2. Scroll through your Call Log until you see the number you want to block, select the number.
  3. Hit More on the 3-dot menu in the upper right cornet.
  4. Choose Add to reject list.
  5. That’s it!

There’s an App for That

Does all this phone number blocking seem too slow? It is. And, a single scammer often uses many, many different phone numbers, so, blocking one number doesn’t do much. You could block numbers all day every day of your life and still not block them all.

There are a number of apps out there that crowdsource the telemarketer and scam information from millions of other users, meaning that you can use blocking data from other users and curated by a company that is in the business of blocking this kind of thing.

You might consider Hiya as an app for caller spam identification and call blocking. There are a variety of similar choices on the App Store and Google Play. All these apps will require access to your phone number and to your Contacts, so, be aware of that going in.

Hiya app for call blocking

Spotting a Scam

Alright, despite everything above, you’ve ended up on the phone with someone from an unknown number and you aren’t sure what to do. Here are a few things to be aware of:

  • Never give out personal information over the phone – social security number, birthdate, etc. Maybe the caller claims to be with the IRS, your credit card company, or similar. If you think this is credible, you may offer to call them back at a verified number that you look up through Google or other legitimate source. Don’t take their word for what that number is.
  • Never give out bank account information over the phone. So, you’ve ended up on the phone with someone you actually want to send money to. Never give out your bank info. Many scammers will push for bank account info will either steer you away from or refuse credit card payment. Once they have your bank information, they can transfer your cash offshore or other places where it can’t be recovered. Credit card fraud is somewhat more difficult. As a payor, you should always use your credit card (not debit card) for payments to someone you don’t know extremely well as it offers you great fraud protection (and for other reasons as well as I cover in this post). But, unless you are absolutely sure you aren’t being scammed, best to not pay or buy anything unexpected on a surprise call from an unknown caller.
  • You may get phone calls claiming to raise money for something like your local Police Department or a charity. Often, the telemarketing firm behind the call is keeping a large part (sometimes 30-50%) of your donation. These callers are often “legitimate” and sanctioned by that entity. But, the caller will often represent themselves as being “with XYZ Charity” instead of a commissioned telemarketing firm. So, the donator may not realize that a large portion of their donation is going to a for-profit telemarketing business. If you have a cause you want to donate to, considering donating directly. Then, the cause you are supporting receives 100% of your donation instead of just a portion and you aren’t funding telemarketing businesses.
  • Be wary of giving money anytime that you can’t verify that the goods & services being “sold” to you were actually delivered. A popular scam is “we want to send a bunch of orphans to a concert” or “we want to send a bunch of magazines to U.S. troops in the Middle East”. There are many cases where companies selling these kinds of “donations” may never actually deliver the good or service. Some of them are actually legitimate, but, it’s hard to ever know the difference. Consider getting some deeper verification beyond the charming person on the other end of the call and don’t make a decision on the spot.
  • Most of all, be very wary if you are pushed to make a decision quickly. This is true for scams of all kinds. Usually, any kind of scammer will push you to make a quick decision right then and there.  If you are being pushed to make a decision right now, take a step away and think about it. If they aren’t willing to let you take a day and think it over, it’s a huge red flag.

Intuition: What It Is and How to Develop It

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Gladwell explored the amazing power of intuition. The book shares one particular story of a fire lieutenant who, sensing something is “off” in a burning building, pulls his firefighters out moments before complete collapse of the structure. The lieutenant, at first, believed his premonition to be the result of some kind of ESP.

Over the course of 2 hours, the signals that contributed to the lieutenant’s intuition were unraveled in an interview by Gary Klein, a decision-making expert. Things had occurred that didn’t make sense – the fire was quiet, the fire was not hot enough, the fire was not responding to water.

In this after-the-fact analysis the lieutenant finally realized that his subconscious mind had actually put together pieces of a very rational puzzle in mere seconds in the middle of chaos that day. His intuition had rightly concluded that the fire was a particularly dangerous type of fire that could collapse the building. His conscious mind was so caught up in the chaos that it missed the signs. But, his conscious mind didn’t miss the message from his subconscious – “GET OUT!”

Our Intuition is Really “Under the Hood” Processing Power

The subconscious part of brain has some serious processing horsepower that our conscious minds lack. Our intuition, as it turns out, is really the result of our subconscious brain processing information and matching patterns for us in the background. The results can seem almost superhuman in both their accuracy and timeliness. But, how do we tap into this ability if we don’t have it today?

The answer can be found in the below quote, describing the circumstances under which our intuition performs badly:

“I’ve learned that your intuition about things you don’t know that much about isn’t very good” – Larry Page, Google co-founder

The fire lieutenant was an expert in fire, having spent years in the department, earning the rank of lieutenant. He had received both education in fire fighting and paid his dues in the school of hard knocks, entering dozens of burning buildings in his career. His intuition had a wealth of information to draw on.

A less experienced, less educated firefighter would have missed all these signals, had no such premonitions as our lieutenant did, and the story could have ended in catastrophe. By the same token, the incredible intuition of the fire lieutenant above, would probably not work nearly as well if he walked into your career today.

Developing Intuition

Now that we have realized what intuition really is and really isn’t, we realize that intuition is not a magical ability that we either have or we don’t. Intuition is a product of learning and experience in an area, which means that it can be developed.

How do you become an expert and develop intuition? All it really takes is putting in the effort to learn and develop experience in an area. Your intuition will be only as good as the effort you put in.

You are probably already an expert on more than you realize… for example, you are probably an “expert” on your significant other or your parents or your closest friends. If they are “off”, your intuition probably picks up on it quickly even if you can’t put your finger on the exact thing that tipped you off. This is a natural result of spending a lot of time with those people and paying attention.

If you want to have this capability on other matters, simply start putting in the time. Some complex topics will certainly require a lot of time. But, it can be done.

This is a very freeing realization for me. It means that, intuition is not some magical power that you are born with or not born with. It means it is a simple product of sustained effort. This “superpower” is here for anyone with the will to harness if they put in the work.

The featured image of this article is used under Wikimedia Commons license, original photo taken by Sylvain Pedneault. Click here for the source page.

Get Paid to Stop Using Your Debit Card

Many of us use a debit card for nearly everything. It’s convenient, it’s simple. You pay for something, it comes out of your bank account, and you never have to think about it again.

But, to anyone looking to optimize and improve their personal financials this is my #1 piece of advice: You should never use a debit card. By using a debit card for every transaction, you are likely costing yourself $500 per year or more.

Simply replacing your debit card transactions with credit card transactions can put an extra $500-1,000 per year in your pocket, depending on your spending habits and offer you better fraud protection. Let’s take a closer look at both this advantages:

How a Credit Card Beats a Debit Card

#1 Better protection in case of fraud – If your debit card number is stolen and used by someone else, that money leaves your bank account. You almost certainly have fraud protection from the card issuer, so you won’t lose your money permanently. But, here’s the catch: it can take several days for the money to go back into your bank account after the fraud is reported.

And, worst case, if the fraud isn’t caught by your debit card company, you may not even know the money is missing until a debit charge is declined or a check is bounced due to insufficient funds.

If you are primarily using a credit card and you have a credit card declined due to hitting your credit limit, you can fallback to another card, or your debit card, or you can even pull cash out of your still safe bank account to use.

If there is any situation where money could ever be tight for you, #1 is a very big deal.

#2 Using a credit card can give you a lot of cash back – My favorite credit card is the American Express Blue Cash Preferred card.  You get a whopping 6% cash back at U.S. grocery stores, 3% cash back at the gas station, and 1% cash back on everything else. I usually earn about $600-800 cash back per year on this card alone.

But, it can be difficult to get through life with only an American Express card since some stores don’t take American Express. So, I pair the Amex with an Amazon Rewards Visa card. The Amazon card gets 5% cash back from Amazon purchases (which I use often), 2% cash back at restaurants and drugstores, and 1% back on everything else.

The Strategy to Maximize Your Cash Back

I use the Visa at restaurants & drugstores (2% cash back, better than the Amex on these categories), on Amazon (3% cash back, better than the Amex on these categories), and anywhere that doesn’t take American Express. I use the American Express everywhere else. Simple.

You want to use your credit card everywhere possible (that doesn’t charge you a fee for doing so) to maximize your cashback.

You typically can’t use your credit card to pay government fees, taxes, or mortgage payments. Also, many utility companies won’t take a credit card. Or, often, if one of these entities will let you use a credit card, you are forced to pay a “service fee” or “convenience fee” which would wipe out any cash back that you might earn. So, don’t use your card for any charge like this.

However, most insurance companies, cable companies, cellular phone companies, and other recurring fees will gladly take your credit card. Don’t use your bank’s bill pay or use an automatic bank draft to pay these bills. Go to the biller’s website and set recurring payments using your credit card.

Put everything on your credit card that you can to maximize your rewards. While 1% might not sound like a lot, if you look at everything you buy in the course of year, 1% can really accumulate into a good chunk of cash.

Extra credit – If you really want to squeak out some extra cash, there a handful of cards out now which offer 1.5% on everything, like the Capital One Quicksilver card. You could add this to mix if you want the extra .5% on your “everything else” category, but, it adds a bit of complexity for not a lot of extra return.

There are also some cards like the Chase Freedom or the Discover It card that offer a great cashback amount of 5% on rotating categories that rotate very quarter. For example, a card issuer might offer 5% cash back at movie theaters in January thru March or at department stores in April thru June. But, for me, tracking the categories and being sure to have the right card onhand is a hassle.

Cash Back vs. Points, Miles, etc. – There are tons of other reward programs out there – you can get points, you get miles, dollars to spend with certain companies. But, I like the simplicity of just getting cash back. I find that points and miles just lead to me searching for something to buy, and in many cases, what I end up getting isn’t something that I would have spent cold, hard cash on. Cash back means I don’t have to waste time, energy or brainpower on my rewards, I just take the cash.

Important: Managing Your Cash

You may be saying, “But I like that my debit card just comes right out of my bank account and I don’t have to worry about paying a bill” – Set AutoPay to pay the full new balance on your credit card’s website. Now you have all the advantages of the credit card and the simplicity of a debit card.

Again, be sure to set AutoPay on your credit cards that you are using to earn cash back. This is very important. We are using these like a debit card. Accidentally miss one payment and the penalties and interest can cost you most of the cashback you would earn in a year. You also don’t want to waste time and mental horsepower on remembering to pay multiple credit card bills by hand monthly.

If you wish to carry a balance on a credit card or already have one, then use a separate card entirely for that balance and pay down that card as you wish. The point of using the above cash back card strategy is to earn you cash on your purchases that would have gone to a debit card previously. You don’t want to mix a long-term credit card balance that you might pay over time with these “run rate” purchases.

This is a good place to mention, however, that carrying a long-term credit card balance is strongly not recommended. If you already have a credit card balance, consider using your new cashback rewards to help you pay off your balance faster. Also, consider moving your credit card balance to a new card that will give you 0% or very interest for 6 to 12 months. This will instantly save you interest cost and give you time to beat down the balance.

Miscellaneous Card Management Tips

To further simplify things, use or a service like it to aggregate all your credit cards and your bank accounts into one view. You can login to Mint and see, for example, that you owe $500 on one card, $200 on another, and you have $2,000 in your bank account. You can also review a list of all your transactions from all your cards and bank accounts and it has a nice mobile app. Login at least once per week to review charges and make sure everything looks as you expect. This will help you keep a handle on your finances and will help you spot any fraudulent transaction that your credit card company hasn’t caught already. If you are using my weekly review strategy for your email inbox, that would be a great time to review your financial transactions from the week as well.

Only keep a debit card on hand for ATM transactions – I’m not saying you shouldn’t carry a debit card or have one (it’s a great backup). But, you shouldn’t use it as your first choice to buy dinner or pay for groceries. Take the cash back from the credit card company for those transactions, carry your debit card in case you need to pull cash out of the bank.

Bonus debit card tip – get a debit card from a bank that offers to pay your ATM withdrawal fees. It’s often a pain to search for your particular bank’s ATMs to avoid withdrawal fees, but, many banks like PNC or Ally offer debit card programs in which they will refund ATM fees charged to you by other bank’s ATMs.

Other credit card extras – Many credit cards offer things like Purchase Protection in case of accidental damage or theft within 90 days of purchase, Return Protection if the merchant won’t let you return an item, Rental Car Insurance, and other benefits. I have never had occasion to use these, so, I don’t focus on them, but, it is another leg up the credit card has over the debit card. Parting piece of advice – if something bad happens with an item you bought on credit card, check into your credit card features to see if the credit card company has a policy in place that may be of help.


I hope that all this has been of help to you. A number of my friends have adopted this strategy and it has helped them tremendously. An extra few hundred dollars of income per year for doing next to nothing is a pretty great return.


Trump’s Surprise Win: 4 Entrepreneurial Lessons

Love him or hate him, Donald Trump obviously did a lot of things right in his unlikely campaign to win the Presidency of the United States. Trump went from “long shot” or “not serious” candidate to surprise victor in the span of 18 months.

This article will make no political comment one way or another about Trump or Clinton. What we will look at are the strategies Trump used to make it to the Oval Office and how those strategies might translate to entrepreneurship.

Trump’s 4 Entrepreneurial Strategies

Lesson #1: Be “the Purple Cow”. Seth Godin’s classic business book Purple Cow, put forward a simple and powerful premise: if you find yourself riding down a road and see dozens or even hundreds of normal cows, you will never remark on them and might not even notice them. But, if you see a Purple Cow, your attention will be completely captured.

You might love the Purple Cow. You might hate it. You might simply be completed befuddled by it. But, you won’t ignore it. In fact, you will actively talk about the Purple Cow to everyone you meet for a time after you see it.

Trump came out of a field of 17 candidates in the Republic primary by being the Purple Cow. He behaved in a way that was completely different from the other candidates. Doing so, caused everyone – both those who agreed with him as well as those who disagreed with him – to talk about Trump. While pundits and voters were talking about Trump, all the “regular cows” were mostly ignored.

Every time that anyone talked about Trump, Trump won. Every mention of his name, positive or negative, increased his brand awareness and public profile over the seemingly nameless and faceless sea of 16 competitors that he was facing off with. Every conversation revolved around Trump, with conversations like “Trump vs. Bush”, “Trump vs. Cruz”, “Trump vs. Clinton”.

This is the power of being the Purple Cow. Everyone becomes aware of you. Even your haters fuel your momentum by raising your brand awareness. Being ignored, being forgotten is the real danger in any entrepreneurial or political endeavor. Candidates like Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, and Carly Fiorina struggled to even be noticed. If you can’t even get someone’s attention you can never get their vote nor their business.

So, if you are in a crowded market with many competitors, like Trump was in the Republican primary, you must do something to stand out. Do something to get people talking about you, do something that people aren’t expecting from businesses like yours. You don’t have to be controversial (though you certainly can be if you wish), but, you must do something to separate yourself from the pack in the minds of the customer.

Lesson #2: If you want to achieve the extraordinary, you will often need to rethink the status quo. Most considered a Republican win or “wave” in this election highly unlikely. The political and demographic deck seemed stacked against, not only Trump himself, but, the GOP as a whole from the very beginning.

So, Trump took some unusual approaches. It’s easy to fixate on his controversial verbal statements, but, Trump made some very concrete departures from not only Democrats, but, the Republican party itself in policy areas like trade and immigration.

These stances, now, appear to be the key to his success. Instead of simply trying to be a traditional Republican, but, be, say, 15% better at running a campaign or delivering the message a little better than Mitt Romney or John McCain, Trump rethought what a Republican could look like entirely. To Republicans, a party built on free market ideologies, free trade has been a sacred cow and cornerstone of the party platform for decades.

But, Trump threw this free market stance completely out the window, saying he would put “America first” in trade. He promised to impose tariffs on companies that send jobs overseas and would seek to curb the common modern corporate America practice of “outsourcing” jobs to foreign firms. This message resonated with middle class workers who have been impacted by foreign outsourcing and trade deficits and, given results in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin, many would argue that this single stance may have won Trump the Presidency.

What sacred cows exist in your industry? What if you did something completely different? What if you broke from the ranks of the regular playbook for your market and really shook things up? Is there a need in the market that you could perhaps fill? Instead of seeking to just be 10% better this year, what if you rethought your entire approach and did something completely new?

Lesson #3: Be #1 to someone or be nothing to everyone. Your business is far better served to find a niche or a group of customers who passionately believe in your message, product, service, or political candidacy.

In voting and in business, there is no value in being everyone’s #4 or #5 choice, even out of a field of only 10 competitors. Choice #4 or #5 ends up with no votes and no sales, because everyone goes for either their first choice or (maybe) their second choice. No one does business with #5. Customers or voters might kind of like of #5 and may even uniformly agree that #5 is a better choice than some other choice that they really dislike, but, they won’t buy or vote for choice #5.

However, there is tremendous value in being #1 in one or two niches. And, ironically, focusing on one niche will often yield far better results on the entire market in the long run rather than directly trying to please the whole market from the outset.

Take the case of Pepsi. Pepsi struggled to compete with Coca-Cola for years before their game-changing slogan “the Choice of the New Generation”. Conventional wisdom would have said this slogan was nuts, it appeared to be giving up on the middle age and senior citizen age brackets. But, from the campaign, Pepsi became not only the #1 cola with younger consumers, but, also gained major ground with older generations as well. If Pepsi had attempted just another “we are just like Coca-Cola, but, we’re better slogan” then they would have had an undefined brand and would have continued to wallow in mediocrity.

Starting with a niche and building from it is the key to success in the early days of business (or business turnaround) or a political candidacy.

Lesson #4: Get knocked down 100 times, get back up 101. When you look through both ancient and recent history, one trait unites all those who succeed – persistence.  Some were honest, some were not. Some were smart, some not so much. Some were talented, some were mediocre to worse. Some were hard working, and some were not. But, everyone who has succeeded has persisted and pushed through setbacks.

Trump faced numerous setbacks (some self-inflicted) and his entire campaign was derided by many as pointless. He faced withering criticism from, not only pundits and Democrats, but, from his own party leaders. This, combined with his poor polling numbers, could have easily led Trump to bow out of the race and this was suggested, and even demanded, by fellow Republicans at times.

Do you feel sure you are on to something, but, are close to quitting? What if you are 1 day, 1 week, 1 month from achieving breakthrough and you just don’t know it yet?

You will make mistakes, I will make mistakes. Donald Trump made mistakes in his campaign. But, Trump never let these mistakes define him and did not seem to dwell on them. There is always a new day and a new battle to fight and the Trump campaign seemed focused on that and pushed forward through all the adversity.

The secret of success in life lies in the fact that even if our batting average is less than stellar, even if we strike out 10 times in a row, we can give ourselves almost unlimited at-bats by simply getting up, dusting ourselves off, and trying again.

Failure in business or politics is rarely final and almost never fatal. You simply must decide to persist, to keep going, and to keep working toward your goal.

Bringing It All Together

The bottom line of all this is this: if you find yourself in a competitive field, be different in your marketing and promotion like the Purple Cow, rethink the status quo of what your business does and how it operates, and find a niche that really cares about what you are doing.

But, most importantly, never ever quit. You will face challenges, you will face setbacks, you will make terrible mistakes, and you will have disappointments. Keep getting back up to fight another day. Remember that every incredible accomplishment is always thought impossible all the way up until it is done.


8 Books with Great ROI

There is no better return on your investment of time or money than books. Tony Robbins often tells that he began his career by reading 700 books in 7 years. Warren Buffet is a voracious reader. Studies show that the average CEO reads 1 or more books per month.

Why do so many high performers read? Because for a few dollars and a few hours of your time, you can learn from the foremost experts in the world on any subject you can imagine.

Just like an investment pays interest, the knowledge from books that you read will inform future decisions, improve your state of mind, and will give you a better life as long as you live. It is the best investment of money or time that you can make.

Below are the 8 books that gave me the best return on my time and money.

The Great Eight


As A Man Thinketh Book

“Men do not attract that which they want, but, that which they are”

Summary: James Allen’s classic is the perfect place to start your journey. This classic essay reveals that, if you wish to do better, you must first become better. Better thoughts and a better mindset will lead you to a better life and better accomplishments.

Why It’s Important: This book serves as an inspiration and foundation for all the remaining 7 books. This book makes you realize the true value of investing in yourself and all that it can lead to. Not only is this book great, but, it’s old enough that the ebook is free! Get it now and read it. It’s a very fast read that you can easily finish in an afternoon.

The Four-Hour Workweek – Tim Ferriss 

4-Hour Work Week Book

“Being efficient without regard to effectiveness is the default. What you do is infinitely more important than how you do it.”

Summary: I’ve read dozens of books and articles on productivity and time management. This was the first book that made me think completely differently about both. Tim got me thinking about my time in a more effective way and made me see new possibilities. Contrary to the title, this book actually helped me figure out how to have many more productive hours in the week rather than less. As an added bonus, I learned how to be happier in the time that I have.

Why It’s Important: This book will break the 40-hour per week mindset. It will also get you focused on possibilities and results rather than time spent.

In-Depth Summary: See my 5 Takeaways from The 4-Hour Work Week in this post.

The War of Art – Steven Pressfield

The War of Art Book

“Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.”

Summary: This book is ostensibly for those doing “creative” work. But, it’s really for anyone who has a serious interest in starting anything new – a business, a book, a new career path, a new hobby. This book is specifically for those who want to do something new but feel something holding them back. Pressfield names that feeling Resistance and gives us the tools to overcome it.

Why it’s important: If you want a fulfilling life that doesn’t end with regrets, at some point you are going to have to overcome fears and anxieties – what Pressfield calls Resistance. No one wants to end up on a hospital bed saying “I always wish I had tried (insert dream here)”. Pressfield gives you the mental tools to push through those blocks and barriers and gets you ready to take on the world.

So Good They Can’t Ignore You – Cal Newport

So Good They Can't Ignore You Book

“Stop focusing on these little details; focus instead on getting better.”

Summary: This book completely changed my mind about both how we create successful careers, and, more importantly, how we create happy lives. Newport puts forward several compelling new angles on both happiness and success in the book that can’t be given justice in this small space.

Why It’s Important: This book will make you realize that “pursuing your passion” could be disastrous for success & happiness. When you finish this book, you will have a different view on career paths and success.

Meditations – Marcus Aurelius

Meditations Book

“Keep hold of this alone and remember it: Each of us lives only now, this brief instant. The rest has been lived already, or is impossible to see.”

Summary: I have found no better antidote for feelings of stress, overwhelm, or fear than the musings of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. This book has become a cornerstone of stress management for everyone from Fortune 500 CEO’s to NFL head coaches and players.

Why It’s Important: If you are reading this, you are probably the kind of person who is ambitious. The dark side of this great trait is that we put a lot of pressure and stress on ourselves. Aurelius, the last “good” Roman Emperor, faced extraordinary pressures that he was able to combat with his outlook contained in this book. As an added bonus, Aurelius’ thousand-year old writings make us realize the commonality of human feelings and problems across the centuries.

Man’s Search for Meaning – Viktor Frankl

Man's Search for Meaning Book

“One should not search for an abstract meaning of life. Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone’s task is as unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it.”

Summary: The book is about exactly what it sounds like – finding the meaning of our lives and achieving a sense of fulfillment. Frankl’s experience in Nazi conentration camps take up the first half of the book. This account combined with Frankl’s expertise in psychology, make for a fast and fascinating read.

Why It’s Important: This book will leave you inspired and ready to tackle anything that might pass for a challenge in the modern world. Frankl experienced the unthinkable and came out stronger.

The 5 Love Languages – Gary Chapman

5 Love Languages Book

“The object of love is not getting something you want but doing something for the well-being of the one you love.”

Summary: Chapman’s book completely changed how I view not only romantic relationships but also family relationships and friendships. Chapman holds that we each have a “love language”, which is our means of expressing and receiving love. Chapman holds that most relationship problems come from a disconnect in the language “spoken” by us and our partner. The core concept is simple and the book is a fast, easy read.This book could improve your close relationships with your partner and family a great deal if you take its lessons to heart.

Why It’s Important: A number of studies show that our relationship with our significant other has a huge impact on our lives and our success. So why don’t we study more about how to improve this part of our lives? A well rounded person absolutely should invest some of their time into thinking about this area and making it all that it can be.

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion – Robert Cialdini

Influence Psychology of Persuasion Book

“It is vital that we clearly recognize this about the principles of persuasion: They make us terribly vulnerable to anyone who knows how they work.”

Summary: This book is sometimes cited as being the book that most frequently appears on the reading lists of the most successful people in the world. There is a good reason for this reputation: this book is phenomenal. The book not only teaches you to persuade others, but, more importantly, helps protect you from the worst kinds of persuasion used by others.

Why It’s Important: If this book saves you from just one bad decision caused by someone else’s persuasion, it will pay for itself 10x or more. And, of course, if you need to persuade someone else, there is no better resource than Cialdini. If you are in leadership, if you need to market something, if you need to convince a boss to use your idea, if you want to persuade yours kids to have better behavior – read this book.

A Well-Rounded Foundation for Success

This list is built to equally equip both the woman who’s dream is to one day be President of the United States and the man who’s dream is simply to work alone and code software.

Depending on your path in life, there are a great number of books on specific disciplines that you may wish to read – books on management, leadership, art, politics, science. These 8 books I feel give anyone me a solid beginning “foundation of success”. On top of these 8 books, you can build whatever kind of specialties suit you.

I would like to note that I have come to strongly believe that developing “personal” skills and insights and being a well-rounded human are critical to professional success. Ryan Holiday summed up this important truth in his book, Ego is The Enemy, as follows:

“Perfecting the personal regularly leads to success as a professional, but, rarely the other way around.”

Are You Losing Time & Money to your Smartphone?

Do you ever pick up your smartphone for a specific purpose and get distracted by notifications?

The unread app notification that is staring you in the face can be impossible to resist. Next thing you know, you open the app. Then, you’re scrolling through the News Feed. 15 minutes, 10 cat videos, and 20 political posts later, you realize you never did what you intended to. That is, if you are lucky enough to remember that you set out to do something at all.

This repeating process costs minutes or even hours of possible productive time per day every day. If it happens often enough enough, you may never get enough momentum to hit peak performance at all in a given day.

3 main negative impacts to your productivity:

  • Lost time – Facebook says that its average user spends 50 minutes per day on the site. That’s fine if you want to spend that long each day on the site, but, do you? Notifications are social media apps’ best way to “suck users in” throughout the day. All those “free” apps from multi-billion-dollar companies weren’t built for charity… those apps were built because they employ the smartest experts at gaining your attention and reselling it to advertisers. Do you have a spare 50 minutes today?
  • Lost thoughts & momentum – When a notification breaks up your thought process, an important thought can be lost. The thought might be a gift idea for your spouse, a text you meant to send your dad, an idea for your business. Or maybe you just finally had real momentum on that big project. But, your mind took off in a totally different direction when you saw that notification. It can take minutes, hours, or days to find your way to back your momentum or your lost thought.
  • Your entire state of mind can get derailed – In some cases, you read stories – political, religious, tragic stories, etc. – that can really mess up your frame of mind for being productive at all by making you angry, sad, or frustrated. This can cost you hours of peak productive time.

So what to do?

Turn off notifications for Facebook, other social media like Twitter and Snapchat, and other non time-sensitive “time spenders” like News and Reddit. Check these apps on a schedule. Aim to only check them 2 to 3 times per day. Lunchtime and after dinner are good times for this.

What notifications should I leave on?

For an app to be able to notify you, its notifications should meet all 3 of the below criteria:

  • Actionable – Will you act on the information from this notification?
  • Time Sensitive – Will you have a time constraint on the action you would take?
  • Important – If you ignored this notification, what happens? A day from now? A month from now? 6 months from now? Anything?

Important information that is neither actionable nor time-sensitive can be reviewed at any time so check it on its own schedule.

Non-important information can always wait. Your productivity and focus are your most important assets and shouldn’t be sacrificed for matters that are not truly important.

Save your notifications for activities that meet all 3 criteria above – Actionable, Time-Sensitive, and Important.

Questions and Objections

“What if I don’t see Notification XYZ for several hours? Won’t that cause me problems?”

There is very little on social media or news apps that can’t wait for a few hours. “Breaking” news almost never requires action by you. You can wait a few hours and get the complete story at your leisure. There is no need to be interrupted from the task at hand to learn about the nonessential happening elsewhere.

“You didn’t include email as a “must” in your app list”

Email is a non-priority method of communication for most of us. It’s sometimes important, but, it’s usually not that time-sensitive. I can pretty much always deal with an email tomorrow and it’s fine. A large portion of email isn’t really actionable. Email is also, by far, the most “spammy” application that most of us have. So, I turned email notifications off. I check email a handful of times per day, but, I don’t let it interrupt what I’m doing.

Related: You might also enjoy my post on how to use your email as a todo list and save a lot of time and stress.

The Bottom Line

In my opinion, as a general rule, you should leave smartphone notifications on only for:

  • text messages
  • calendar
  • phone calls
  • reminders

Depending on your specific career, other apps may also qualify as time-sensitive, actionable, and important apps, but, probably not many.

Don’t let the nonessential distract you. Build momentum and focus and get things done in the best way possible without distractions.