I’d like to confess something.
Until recently, I’d get jealous quickly when I saw someone doing what I wanted to or ‘living the dream’. (Thank you Instagram.)
Comparing yourself to someone else is as bad as smoking cigarettes. Everyone knows that. But I couldn’t help myself. I compared their lifestyle to mine, and moped over why the ‘fame I deserved didn’t come to me.’
In this state of mind, I’d resolve to work hard and improve my life.
However, the jealousy would subside as fast as it arose. I’d revert to my old self faster than a criminal who just got out of jail. The ‘resolve’ lay forgotten under a stockpile of a thousand other promises.
When I looked closer, I figured out why this happened over and over again like Groundhog’s Day.
Turns out, I was looking at achievers all wrong.
What I Should Truly Feel Jealous Of
I felt jealous of achievers’ success. But I conveniently ignored their efforts. Less sleep, numerous sacrifices, showing up each day to do the same thing…
Achievers push themselves to do what they should. Then there’s me, complaining that I can’t find time after work, that the daily commute is exhausting, my boss is a jackass, my colleagues are mean — the odds are stacked against me.
But the truth is that achievers don’t have a better life than mine. In fact, many of them face far worse odds. What I should’ve turned green with envy over was their effort and disciplined attitude towards work.
How did (do) they find the time to put in the effort to reach where they are?
The Secret of Compounding Results
Most people spend their work hours — 10 am to 7 pm — on… well… work.
They spend their remaining time — 7 pm to 10 am — preparing themselves for work. Preparing includes ‘mental relaxation’ like watching Netflix, scrolling through Instagram, checking their notifications, or all of these. Or, because they can work 24/7, they spend this time working too (or thinking about it).
Weekends are worse. They wake up late, binge-watch Netflix, wait in line to eat at crowded places just to post photos on Instagram. They might complete chores and meet friends on Saturday. But by Sunday, they’re filled with dread about a day that is still over twelve hours away.
No wonder Sunday afternoon is one of the most unproductive times for most people. Don’t believe me? Just scroll through this hashtag.
In his seminal book Flow, researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote,
If left to their own devices and genetic programming, most people do stuff like worry about things or watch television.
But achievers are different. (Of course!)
They optimize their time at work. But they don’t let ‘work’ or ‘life’ get in the way of their personal goals. For them, time outside of work is worth its weight in gold which they invest in self-improvement. This, when compounded over time, magnifies into large proportions.
When I compared my routine to theirs, I found why the ‘fame I deserved didn’t come to me.’
Outside of work, I spent mind-numbing hours watching television. I kept watching reruns of cricket matches until I learned them by heart. If I didn’t, I felt a void. I may not be fond of Netflix or Game of Thrones but felt like I was married to the TV.
The result? I didn’t work on what I should’ve been doing.
For most people, their workday is their ‘day’. Their routines revolve around the eight hours of 10 am to 7 pm (30 percent). And when this day is over, they’re left with nothing in the tank. Their mind refuses to engage in a meaningful pursuit and instead, rushes into the welcoming arms of instant gratification.
If you surrender 70 percent of your day to 30 percent, how will you ever get close to your goals?
Okay. Enough admonition. We’re done talking about the illness. Now let’s focus on the remedy.
Remember how you went out to play after school as a child. Playing outside wasn’t ‘constructive.’ (Well, technically it was, but what did you know then?) Yet, it refreshed your mind and let you focus on your studies afterward.
Consider the time after work your playtime. Here’s how I use it, and so can you.
1. Tell yourself “I’m not tired”
Have you felt so exhausted after wrapping up work that you don’t feel like doing anything?
Yes, we all have horrible days. But let’s be honest. Those days are few and far in between.
How often does your mind complain about having no energy left when you have to hit the gym or do anything which offers positive long-term returns?
Now compare that to the energy with which you fire up Netflix or get dressed to go to the movies.
Your mind isn’t really ‘tired’ after work. It craves for a change.
When I worked in the corporate, I finished work at 7 pm and started my commute home. This is when I would tell myself I’m not tired, no matter how the day was. In fact, the harder the day, the more liberated I felt because I could now focus on myself. By the time I reached home, my mind was raring to get going.
Prepare yourself for a change that will stimulate your mind. Then move to the next step.
2. Hack Your Commute Time
Do you disagree with the idea of a 7 pm-to-10 am day because you spend anywhere between one to three hours commuting every day? I feel your pain. I go through the same thing.
But how I used my commute time made the difference.
I could watch movies or scroll through social media. But that just made me grumpy. Or, I could listen to a podcast, read a book and watch TED talks.
I preferred the latter.
When I did, my monkey mind jumped from one branch to another. Or I would catch myself thinking about the same point over and over again.
When I notice this (it happens even now), I non-judgmentally bring my mind back to the important thought.
The effects are twofold. I don’t dread the traffic anymore and I strengthen my ability to focus for longer periods of time.
3. Plan Your Outside Work Hours
Doesn’t this sound ironic? Isn’t it better to be spontaneous with your non-working hours?
You’re right. Partly.
When I let each moment decide my actions, I enjoy free will. I can choose between working on a side-project, learning something new, or working out.
But these moment-by-moment-decisions take a toll on my willpower and drain out whatever is left after the workday. In the end, I end up plonking myself on the sofa all evening.
Here’s some bad news: the more you don’t do what you think you should, the more you compromise your willpower. Then when you need it, willpower doesn’t show up.
Now the good news: You don’t have to spend three hours each night working on something which demands your mental energy. Apply the 60/30 Rule: Devote just 60 minutes of your evening to doing meaningful work for the next 30 days.
Doesn’t sound difficult, does it?
4. Shut Off Distractions
Getting distracted is as natural to human beings as brushing our teeth. These distractions sabotage our plans every day.
While writing, I turn off the internet. If I must use it, I use the SelfControl app to block social media. I’ve also disassembled my TV connection. If I want to watch it, I must assemble the setup first. That’s a task in itself.
Such actions give my mind the signal that the task I should work on is a priority. And since I don’t have access to distractions, I can put more effort into it.
What will you do to fire your distractions?
5. Reflect in Your Day
Most people go through the motions of doing things over and over again.
They read 30 books in 30 days but don’t remember a word. They play a guitar cover perfectly but struggle to compose original music. Such people might spend hours doing stuff but they might as well be buttering bread.
Daily reflection helps successful people focus on important things like the direction in which they’re headed, making sense of their circumstances, how they can get better, and more.
Spend the last ten minutes of your day with a diary. Reflect on your actions, on what you did well, and what you could’ve done better.
You can learn a lot from the ideas you put into your mind from the external world, but you can arguably learn even more by breaking them down and making better sense of the thoughts already roaming in your head. — Zat Rana
I wanted to do what they did. But I kept thinking, “My work will never be good enough.” That’s why I felt jealous of successful people.
I now realize how wrong I was. I could look at their efforts and discipline and learn from them. I could turn my jealousy into inspiration and determination.
I don’t have to become world-class at anything. I just have to become one percent better than the day before.
Keep walking. Trust the process. The path will eventually reveal itself. How you spend your time outside of work will dictate what you‘ll achieve in your life.