If there’s one thing I’ve obsessed about over the past 10 years, it’s how to squeeze more out of each day. At my peak in time efficiency, I was doing plastic surgery residency, working 80 hours in the hospital, then going home to study and prepare for presentations. I was concurrently building two businesses: Blue LINC, a medtech incubator, and Med School Insiders. I started a second YouTube channel for vlogging as well. I also cycled 6 days per week, lifted weights 4 times per week, and was starting a new relationship. Seem impossible? Here’s how I did it, and how you can too.
Approximately ten years ago, my health took a big turn for the worse, and I had a hard wake up call that life is short; and if life is short – I better maximize each moment. That means I’m either working tirelessly toward leaving my impact on the world, or enjoying and cherishing the pleasure of being alive through high-quality leisure time.
Being a tyrant with your time and achieving maximal time efficiency is not just about working non-stop. By being more efficient with your time, you can actually have more time to hang out with your friends, watch a movie, or relax in any other way you deem worthwhile.
This is the first and foundational principle of being maximally effective, time-efficient, and productive: Spend your time working all out or playing all out, never that nonsense in the middle where you try to do both at the same time. Have you ever tried to do work while in front of the TV, watching the game? Your effectiveness in work is highly compromised, and you’re not fully enjoying the game either. It’s simply not a good use of your time, so don’t do it.
There’s nothing special about me and being able to do this – I just applied myself to this problem with greater persistence and effort. Building from this foundational principle, I’ve developed several other strategies that have allowed me to do things that others in my field said was impossible. I’ve lost count of how many people have asked me how I get so much done in a day. And if you follow these steps, you too can get more work done, spend more time having fun, and live a better life.
1 | What’s Your Current Life Season?
Understanding that we each have the same 24 hours in a day is a sobering realization. Despite having the same amount of time each day, how can two people have such divergent results?
This isn’t a call to arms in saying that you need to be working harder and that you shouldn’t allocate time for fun or relaxation. This is a wake-up call that in life, we have seasons. I spent years trying to find the ever-elusive work-life balance, only to realize it doesn’t exist. Rather, it’s a constantly changing work-life harmony that we always dance within the greater context of our lives.
Don’t be afraid to have some seasons of grinding and working hard, particularly when you’re in your teens and twenties. If anything, this will put you ahead of your peers. When I was in surgical residency and concurrently building two businesses, I was at maximal capacity. I had every minute planned out each day, and I took great pleasure in my work. That being said, it was a shorter season that I knew I didn’t want for the rest of my life.
On the other hand, when I went to Asia for 6 weeks earlier this year, I was only working a couple of hours per day, and I knew making the impact I want on the world would take much more time and effort when I returned from my travels.
When taking this bird’s eye view of your life seasons, it’s also crucial to understand that urgency and importance are not the same. Even though getting a workout in isn’t urgent, it is important and should be prioritized in your schedule. It has massive compounding effects in your long term health, and can even help you with focus and productivity in the short term. Similarly, a healthy diet isn’t urgent, and you aren’t going to die from eating Doritos today, but the importance of a balanced diet cannot be overstated.
2 | Eliminate Distraction
The biggest violation that you’re committing is lacking presence and focus moment to moment. Splitting your attention between what you should be doing and what is fighting for our attention, such as emails, texts, or DM’s, wreaks havoc on both your work and play.
Maybe you should be studying for organic chemistry but you mindlessly pick up your phone and see if there are any new notifications on Facebook or Instagram. Or maybe you’re grabbing dinner with a friend supposed to be engaged in conversation but you can’t resist the urge to check the buzz on your Apple Watch.
Have you ever noticed that when it’s the day before a deadline, you seem to get more done in 12 hours than you did in the past 12 days? This is Parkinson’s Law at play, which states that work expands to fill the time allotted to it. When we have a time constraint or deadline, we find ourselves being more productive – the reason being we are forced to maintain focus and are not as prone to being distracted. But the secret is that you don’t have to wait until the last day to get this boost in productivity.
So how can you implement this in your own life?
First, tame your devices. I’ve disabled notification sounds on my phone except for phone calls. The only home screen notifications are certain chat apps, like text messages and Instagram DM’s, or important reminders to journal every morning. No email notifications, no notifications about someone liking my post or news updates or any nonsense like that. If you still find yourself distracted, simply place your phone in another room so you aren’t tempted to mindlessly pick it up.
Second, practice allocating time and setting an intention when you sit down to work. Rather than sitting down to study after class without purpose other than to study organic chemistry, set a goal and end time. For example, finish 30 practice problems in the next hour and then read one chapter before dinner at 7PM.
3 | Find the Nuance in Proper Scheduling
Love it or hate it, scheduling is a necessary part of optimal time efficiency.
For a period of time, I scheduled my gym sessions first thing in the morning. After all, it’s what Jocko Willink does, and he’s the embodiment of discipline and badassery. But there’s a cost to starting your day with exercise. Attention spans are limited, and deep work can only be done for short spurts of a few hours at most. Therefore telling myself I would gym from 7-9AM and work from 9AM to 6PM with only a break for lunch wasn’t maximally effective or properly optimized for my desired outcomes.
Instead, I now practice a daily schedule that has been optimized for certain outcomes. First, I want to prioritize important but non-urgent tasks, like journaling, meditation, or working out. Second, I want to get multiple stretches of productive work without having to work the entire day. Third, I want to target 8-9 hours of sleep per night.
My morning is structured with non-urgent but important tasks, like journaling, meditation, stretching, testing my HRV, brushing my teeth, and the like. Immediately after, my mind is fresh, so I do a block of focused work – work that requires me to be sharp. After a couple of hours, I break my 16/8 intermittent fast with lunch and then head to the gym. An administrative work block follows in the afternoon, as I usually experience a dip in focus and energy around this time. After an early dinner at 6PM I get to a creative work block, whereby I set the Philips Hue smart lights to something playful, turn on some music, and let the inspiration flow.
This is my daily schedule, and I’ll be making more detailed walkthroughs for each part on my personal YouTube channel, Kevin Jubbal, M.D.. This isn’t set in stone, and a schedule optimized for your own day will likely look much different than mine. Back in residency or in medical school, my schedule was drastically different than it is today. The importance doesn’t lie in the specifics of my schedule, but rather the deliberate way it came about, first intentionally outlining my desired outcomes and then experimenting for months to find the best schedule to facilitate those outcomes.
That being said, there are a few key elements to prioritize:
- You cannot focus indefinitely for hours on end. All work should be within dedicated time periods that have a start time, an end time, and a plan on what you want to work on.
- Entropy grows as the day proceeds. Prioritize getting more important or foundational items early in the day. This is why I have my non-urgent but important habits first thing in the morning, followed by focused work.
- Don’t compromise on sleep. Even in medical school, I prioritized getting at least 7 hours because it was so readily apparent how much-prolonged sleep deprivation blunted my effectiveness. Are there occasional call nights or 36 hours shifts where you don’t sleep? Yes, but they should be the exception, not the rule.
4 | Being Over Doing
There will be many moments in which you fail. I still do, after years of obsessing and tweaking my own time optimization. And that’s ok.
When you inevitably fail, you must not take that to mean you are a failure or that your schedule is not worth it. As you continue to work on your schedule, you’ll prioritize the ways of being over the acts of doing. When you approach life this way, you’ll take on empowering identities. When you miss a deadline or get distracted, you have two options. Dwell on your inevitable failure or choose at that moment to be something different. Choose to learn from your mistakes, to be the type of person that catches him or herself in a distracted state, and gets back to work.
If you’re falling behind schedule and have only 30 minutes rather than 90 for your workout, you have two options. Either quit and say “forget it, I don’t have enough time to work out today,” or you can say “I’ve got 30 minutes, how can I make this count?” One is self-defeating – the other empowers you to keep moving forward.
The impact of striving to stick to your schedule day after day despite the setbacks is how your small goals become lifetime habits.
If you have any requests for future posts, let me know with a comment below. Much love to you all!