1. Say no to telemarketers. I get calls from credit card salesmen, cable TV vendors, broadband agents and unit trust salesmen on a daily basis. The easiest way to deal with these people is to cut them off and tell them you are not interested, in a polite voice. Salesmen appreciate it if you tell them straight away that you are really not interested, so they can stop wasting their time. If you hesitate, then they will play the various tricks in their sales manual. Some of them are really good, trust me. So tell them, in a firm and polite voice, that I AM NOT INTERESTED. Do not make awkward laughs, do not make excuses (else they will call again), do not tell them you’ll think about it (why lie?), and do not be rude. Just tell them, I am not interested. They should hang up. Otherwise, you hang up.
2. Don’t reply to unimportant emails. I don’t know why but everyday I get emails from strangers asking for advice, asking to meet me to discuss a proposal or asking for some favor. As a rule, I don’t correspond with strangers, but sometimes when I feel generous I do reply to their emails. Do not feel that you have to respond to everyone. Focus your energy on things that matter most: you and your life. Other people are not as important.
3. Collect all your meetings in one day. I hate going to meetings outside the office. Some meetings may only last for one hour, but anytime I go to any engagement outside the office, it feels hard to be productive when I get back at the office. There can be many factors: physical (being exhausted) or psychological (starting work in the afternoon vs. starting work in the morning). If possible, I try to arrange my meetings and appointments to coincide with the days I am working outside the office.
4. Switch off your phone when you don’t need it. I don’t own a smartphone so I don’t get bogged down checking friends’ Twitter feeds and Facebook status updates on my phone every minute. Even then, phone calls and SMS are a real nuisance. I usually switch off my phone when I am taking a nap or when I am doing a work that needs focus (writing an article, or doing company finances, for instance).
In the evening, I usually switch off my phone. There were rare instances when people couldn’t contact me for some urgent matter. However, no plane has crashed and no hostage has been killed because I did not pick up the phone. Even the “urgent” matters I have to deal with are worth diddly-squat in the big picture.
But what if there were real emergencies? Well, you cannot go by asking “what if”s all your life. It’s a pretty sucky way to live.
5. Start your day by sitting down for 5 minutes to list down the things you have to do. I get pissed off when someone tells me he missed something because he forgot. It doesn’t take 10 minutes to make a to-do list every morning. Keep it simple: just figure out what to do when. Prioritize your daily tasks, and leave the unimportant things for later. Don’t be that asshole that must do everything today. When you are doing your list tomorrow, refer to today’s list and see if there are any overlaps.
6. Read everything before you sleep. I have a habit of stacking reading materials on the bedside. Magazines, books, students’ homeworks, academic journals, newspapers, brochures, contracts, Quran — anything goes as far as my bedside reading is concerned. I also keep a notebook and pen nearby to take notes.
I consider myself a well-read person, and 90% of my reading occurs on the bed. Even a thick business contract full of legalese is a fair bedside reading. I don’t like to read during the day so much. Day is for working, night is for resting (sleeping and reading).
7. Have dinner early. The advantage of an early dinner (taken before 7pm) is you can have the full evening to yourself. Dinner takes a lot of time: cooking takes one hour, eating takes half an hour, chitchatting takes half an hour, cleaning up takes another hour.
My family like to take dinner late so I usually eat first before 7pm and then join them at the table during their dinnertime, not to eat, but to catch up with everyone. Then, before they finish I get up and retire to my room.
I don’t watch television anymore. I prefer to spend my evening doing solitary activities like working, reading and writing.
8. Declutter. Throw everything out, and leave only the bare necessities. The peace of mind you get from a neat desk and a neat room far outweighs any potential trouble you have to go through if you had thrown something “you might need in the future”. If you need something, you can always get it someplace else. Don’t let your workplace and living space become a warehouse.
Some people cannot bear to throw away things because of sentimentalism, or because they think they might need them in the future, or just because they don’t want to throw things out because it shows “ungratefulness” (who the heck came up with that idea?). These are all silly excuses which are obstacles to living a clutter-free life.
9. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Don’t let small matters get to you. Get other people to do it for you, even if you have to pay them. Do the things that matters to you: if it makes you money, or gives you happiness or any good things, then it is worth doing. Otherwise, it’s a waste of time.
Once, I knew a guy who drafted a letter 15 times because he was afraid the recipient won’t read the letter if it’s not up to the specified format. He took 2 hours to prepare a one-page letter. For some people, that guy is a model of meticulousness; for me, it’s just stupid. Don’t be that guy.
An efficient life comes from having the right mindset — putting yourself first and foremost. This is not being selfish, this is acting in your self-interest (what’s wrong with being selfish, anyway?). Whatever is detrimental to your self-interest is a waste of time, money, and energy. Do not waste your time, money and energy dealing with these things. Focus on developing yourself and ignore other people. Entertain others only as long as it redounds to your benefit.
This is the cornerstone of modern living. We are not living in a primitive hunter-gatherer society where self-sacrifice is called for.