Tag: Tony Robbins

The Ultimate Time Management Hack that Took Me 5 Years to Create – Part 2

Here’s what happened last time on ExcelShir in case you missed it:
The Ultimate Time Management Hack that Took Me 5 Years to Create – Part 1

And now, the conclusion…

4. Medium Focus Time (4MFT)

What is 4MFT?

I realize the word “medium” can be very subjective, so for me it means time in which I’m not quite as focused as I am in the morning, but I’ve still got some pep left in my step. The trick to keeping productivity and focus up during this time is to shift gears and work on something different than I did in the morning. What can I say? I crave variety.

Where does 4MFT usually take place?

This almost always takes place at home. Occasionally I’ll be out and about and have the ability to stay somewhat focused in a cafe or bookstore. This is the exception though, not the rule.

When does 4MFT typically occur?

After lunch and meditation (here’s why I meditate every day by the way), which is usually between 3-5 pm, give or take an hour. 4MFT usually doesn’t last for longer than 2 hours.

Which activities are good examples for 4MFT?

  • Anything that I didn’t finish during my 1NET Time but the deadline is fast approaching… like blog editing for example. Ahem.
  • Prospect list research. Not the rote work of finding company names, contact names and email addresses. I’m talking about crafting a customized email pitch for each of them specifically. More on that in a future post.
  • Preparing for lessons with 1-on-1 Excel training clients.
  • A more enjoyable work project (something that I’m excited about, like dashboards).
  • If I have nothing pressing, than sometimes I’ll work on my own personal Excel projects during this time. Yes, I spend some of my free time with Excel. I’m hardcore like that.

5. High Focus Time (5HFT)

What is 5HFT?

Ah the moment you’ve all been waiting for. The Creme de la creme of productivity. To me, High Focus Time feels like the scene where Neo sees the matrix, or John Nash cracks the codes during “A Beautiful Mind.”

This may sound silly, but sometimes I actually feel superhuman. After all, I am experiencing “flow.” You know, the enchanted garden of productivity and full immersion where time seems to vanish. I learned about it through Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s work.

The sad thing is that most people only stumble upon this sweet nectar of productivity by accident. I on the other hand, engineer this “flow” 3-5 times per week. Usually for 90 minutes. I know this because I log my time using the OfficeTime App, and use the free online tool e.ggtimer (props to Tim Ferris for suggesting it). Anything worked past the initial 90 minutes is a pure bonus. If I’m on a roll, I’ll keep going. If not, I’ll stop there and won’t feel guilty. Sounds like a win-win scenario if there ever was one.

Where does 5HFT usually take place?

At home. Period. I have yet to experience this anywhere else. I’ve got my comfy chair, Pandora One, my bottle of water (gotta stay hydrated!), and natural light pouring into my room. There are no distractions, no need to chit chat with co-workers to be polite, and no emails to check. The only way to reach me is through a phone call or text. Even then I only check to see if it’s an emergency, and answer only if it is. In case you couldn’t tell, I am extremely vigilant about keeping this time undisturbed!

When does 5HFT typically occur?

After breakfast. Usually from about 12-2 pm. Some days I can go for longer than others. I have noticed that it is extremely rare for me to be able to focus as well at any other time of day.

Which activities are good examples for 5HFT?

All the super important, creative work gets done here. For example:

  • Paid client work like dashboards, or one of my current projects such as Beyond Tells
  • Client communications that involve sales concepts or strategic thinking on my part
  • Curriculum development, filming, or pretty much any kind of work on my online Excel classes
  • Important brainstorming of any kind

Basically I’ll go down my list of WIGs and work on those first during this time. This is another reason why it’s helpful to recite my WIGs out loud every day, right before starting High Focus Time.

Whew! You made it through all 5 time contexts. Congrats! 🙂

So what does classifying time into these 5 contexts actually DO for me?

Well, for starters I become very familiar with which type of work requires which type of time context. This enables me to make startlingly accurate predictions of how much I can accomplish per week. More importantly however, I’m able to optimize my productivity system and see where the weak points are. It helps me use the right tool for the right job, or in this case, work on tasks that are ideal for the time context that I am currently in.

How do I do that exactly?

It involves 2 completely separate processes:

  1. Assigning new tasks to the appropriate time context
  2. Choosing which task to work on, given a specific time context

The key to assigning new tasks is to always go for the lowest possible mentally challenging time. Here’s the algorithm I follow:

  • Can this task be done in 1NET Time? If yes, assign it to 1NET.
  • If not, can it be done in 2MCT? If yes, assign it to 2MCT.
  • If not, can it be done in 3LFT? If yes, assign it to 3MCT.
  • If not, can it be done in 4MFT? If yes, assign it to 4MFT.
  • If not, can it be done in 5HFT? If yes, assign it to 5HFT.
  • If not, re-evaluate your time classification system, and consider creating a new classification altogether.

In Excel, it would look like a Nested If formula:

IF("Task"="4MFT","4MFT",IF("Task"="5HFT","5HFT","Re-evaluate System")))))

In English, all I’m doing is striving for the minimum level of focus required for each task. Only the tasks that absolutely must have super creative focus should be attempted during 5HFT. Otherwise I am sub-optimizing my most valuable asset.

Think of it another way. When you are cooking a stew you don’t chop all the vegetables first and only then turn on the stove to boil the water.

Such a rookie mistake!

Instead, you heat up the water first, and THEN start chopping vegetables. That way, by the time you are done chopping, the water is already boiling.

Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.

As for deciding which task to work on, given a specific time context, here’s the algorithm that I use:

  • 5HFT – Begin 5HFT tasks first. Only if all 5HFT tasks are complete move on to 4MFT.*
  • 4MFT – Begin 4MFT tasks first. Only if all 4MFT tasks are complete move on to 3LFT.
  • 3LFT – Begin 3LFT tasks first. If all 3LFT tasks are complete consider attempting 2MCT or 1NET, but most likely just take a break or stop doing work because you probably won’t be able to focus anyway.
  • 2MCT – Begin 2MCT tasks first. Only if all 2MCT tasks are complete consider moving on to 4MFT or even 5HFT (depending on how focused you feel).
  • 1NET – Begin 1NET first. Only if all 1NET tasks are complete consider moving on to 3LFT or possibly 4MFT if at a cafe or somewhere quiet.

*Note: When the thought of a particular 5HFT task makes me cringe and I don’t think I can do a good job of it, I move on to the next task immediately. It would be a fool’s errand to try and force it. Instead, I choose the next highest priority item that I DO feel like working on.

Pro Tip: Go easy on yourself

A prime example of this is to notice if and when you are slipping from High Focus Time (5HFT) into Medium Focus Time (4MFT), or even to Low Focus Time (3LFT).

In fact, several times while writing this blog post I stopped in the middle because I realized I was losing focus.

In the past, I used to get really angry and disappointed in myself. But now, thanks to my personal daily affirmations, I smile and move on to another task, or take a break altogether. I can’t even begin to tell you how beneficial this has been to my productivity, sanity, and overall happiness.

Remember that it’s not just you. Everyone experiences these fluctuations in mood and productivity. In fact, according to Pauline Kehm the brain can only stay focused for 90 minutes at a time. I learned that during her fantastic mind mapping class. More on Mind Mapping in a future post though.

Have I tickled your curiosity?

Do you want to create your own time classification system? Here are some questions to get you started:

  • When are you most productive?
  • Where are you most productive?
  • How long can you stay focused on 1 task before getting distracted?
  • What tasks can you get done during NET Time (No Extra Time)?
  • Define your most productive time, medium productive time, and low productive time.
  • Create a list of common tasks that would be best suited for each of those time slots. Think about your physical location/environment too.

Final words of wisdom

No system is perfect. I don’t always stick to the schedule, and you know what?

That’s okay!

The point is to become more aware of your own habits and stop dilly dallying. Put another way: get more done, in less time, with less effort. Go with the flow of your own body and mind. Don’t swim upstream.

In other words…

“be like the tuna, not the salmon”

Thanks Jerry Seinfeld!

P.S. In the meantime, please enjoy a
Free 1-Page Cheat Sheet of All 5 Time Contexts

The Ultimate Time Management Hack that Took Me 5 Years to Create – Part 1

You’ve heard it before, and you’ll hear it again:

Time is our most valuable resource.

No matter who you are, how many resources you have, or what you are doing with your life, we all share the same 24 hours in the day. There is no escape from this fundamental truth. At least, not in the foreseeable future.

Given that sobering realization, there are 2 ways we can deal with this:

  1. Complain about it and continue using it as an excuse to not get things done. (*Ahem* I used to do this all the time)
  2. Acknowledge it and make a conscious choice to measure, analyze, and optimize our lives to get more done in the limited amount of time that we have left.

Since there are quite a few things I want to get done in this life (like this for example), I choose the 2nd option.

If you chose option 1, I strongly encourage you to STOP reading this post immediately. It might shake your belief system to the core, and it doesn’t sound like you’re quite ready for that. Instead, check out the latest viral video on buzzfeed.com.

On the other hand, if you chose option 2, grab yourself a healthy snack (carrots anyone?), because the next few blog posts will bring you one step closer to time management nirvana.

But before we Peter Pan our way off the cliff, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page.

Not All Time is Created Equal

This is important, so I’ll say it again.

Not all time is created equal.

Things like mood, time of day, environment, and other external factors have the power to impact the quality of our experiences, in a very big way.

To help illustrate this point, I am going to share with you the 5 classifications I have created to describe the different time contexts that I experience.


Let’s do this!

1. No Extra Time (1NET)

What is 1NET?

I first learned about this concept from Tony Robbins. As far as I understand it (and please correct me if I’m wrong Tony), it essentially involves optimizing an activity you are already engaged in to include an additional activity (or activities) to get more done in the same amount of time.

For example, here you can see Tony walking on a treadmill while answering emails. The point is, he’s already going to be answering emails, why not also walk and get some exercise in the process?

Another example is listening to audiobooks while on your daily commute. I do this all the time by the way, and am undoubtedly a happier, smarter man as a result. Thanks for the suggestion Tony!

Where does 1NET usually take place?

  • Subways
  • Waiting in long lines
  • Doctors appointments
  • Cafes downtown (if a meeting got cancelled and I already left my apartment)

Note: short waits in lines are not ideal for getting much work done, because by the time I get in “the zone” the wait is over and I have to stop what I’m doing. However, those short waits are perfect for my daily tracking activities (like my Diet Log and Life Balance Log), since they are very modular and don’t require a lot of thinking.

When does 1NET typically occur?

This is by far the most flexible aspect of NET time, which is what makes it so powerful. It can literally happen at ANY MOMENT. For example, on some days 1NET will occur in the afternoon while on the way to a client meeting. On other days, I’ll find myself in 1NET later in the evening. Which begs the question…

How can you tell when you’ve slipped into NET time?

It’s quite simple really. You’ll probably start to feel bored, or find yourself checking your phone for the 3rd time in a row, only to find that “no new emails” have arrived. In other words, you aren’t doing anything useful, but you could be. Make sense?

Which activities are good examples for 1NET?

2. Morning Coffee Time (2MCT)

What is 2MCT?

Alright, so the cat’s out of the bag. I’m a coffee person. That means every morning, like so many others in the developed world, I fill a Cup O’ Joe, and start the day with a little extra dose of caffeine. It should come as no surprise then, that 2MCT refers to that sacred time after waking up and before “officially” starting my day. Yes, for me the ritual itself is sacred. Don’t believe me? Look at Mariel Hemingway’s tweet in response to my post.

What’s important to note here is that I do this every morning anyway. This makes it very similar to 1NET, except for 2 key differences: 1) I am usually even more focused than during 1NET, and 2) I am always on my computer while having coffee. After all, with 1NET I am usually out and about, working from my smart phone. Nostalgia moment: Remember when the only thing you could do with your phone was make a call? *Sigh*

Where does 2MCT usually take place?

Fortunately for me, 99% of the time I am not rushing out of my apartment in the morning. This is just one of the many perks of being self-employed and not being a slave to the 9-5 culture! Because of this, 2MCT takes place in my kitchen, and I rarely ever skip it.

When does 2MCT typically occur?

About 10:00 am – 11:30 am. Why so long? Because I’m also having breakfast! And as you’ll soon discover, I’m also getting a lot of work done.

So 😛

Which activities are good examples for 2MCT?

  • Checking personal finances
  • Recording earnings in my freelancer earning log from the previous day (my longest-running and most useful Excel tool I’ve ever created)
  • Re-categorizing transactions in Mint.com (the best free way to manage your personal finances. And they didn’t even pay me to say that!)
  • Answering emails that I’ve marked as “Requires Action” (more on that in my post How I Reach Inbox Zero in Under 5 Minutes Every Day)

3. Low Focus Time (3LFT)

What is 3LFT?

This should be pretty self explanatory. During Low Focus Time I cannot engage in complex, creative, or cognitively-driven activities. In other words, I can’t focus very well. Thank you captain obvious.

Where does 3LFT usually take place?

95% of the time this takes place at home, but every once in a while I’ll be out at a cafe at night with my computer, and it happens there. Thanks for making that possible NYC!

When does 3LFT typically occur?

No matter how much I’ve tried to fight it over the years, after the sun goes down, my productivity takes an absolute nose dive. Interestingly enough, even if the sun is still up (as it is in the summer months) I still lose my ability to focus after 5 or 6 pm. There have even been times when I’m unable to focus during the day because I’m pre-occupied or excited about something else. In other words, Low Focus Time can creep up on you when you least expect it.

Which activities are good examples for 3LFT?

  • If I have any sort of manual repetitive task (of which there are very few in my life to begin with), this is the perfect time for it
  • Video editing for my online classes
  • Creating prospect lists for my Excel Dashboard Services (the world of information dashboards will never be the same!)

Tune in next time when we review the last 2 time contexts.

And yes, I am saving the best for last.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this parting thought, inspired by Bassam Tarazi’s blog post The Lie Behind Carpe Diem:

“Don’t live everyday like it was your last. Instead, seize at least one moment, daily.”

What moment will you seize today?

Don’t Underestimate the Power of Rewards

Earlier this week I found myself strolling through the Highline Park in lower Manhattan. I was waiting to meet a friend and then go see an improv show at the UCB Theater. It’s all part of my “live a balanced life” approach. Not a bad way to spend a Tuesday evening if you ask me.

As I sat on one of the benches, reading Information Dashboard Design by Stephen Few, a father and son sat down next to me. It didn’t take long for the kid to start pestering his father for a popsicle.

“No, you’ve already had your sweets for today.” The father insisted.

The son continued to whine “but dad, I really want one! Please can’t I have one!”

“I said no,” the father replied in a raised voice.

After another minute or so of nagging, something interesting happened. The father rolled his eyes, let out a big sigh, and said “Fine! Go get a popsicle and be quiet” as he handed his son some money.

It didn’t take a degree is psychology to figure out that the father was tired, and probably at the end of his rope. But do you see what he inadvertently did?

By giving in to his son’s whining, he was communicating to his son the following message: if you want something, all you have to do is whine, nag, and be obnoxious, and eventually you’ll get it. In essence, the father was rewarding the very behavior he wanted to avoid.

The trouble is, this behavior will undoubtedly continue because the son felt good as a result of his actions. With his words, the father was saying “don’t nag” but with his actions he was instructing his son “nag and you’ll get what you want.”

This made me think back to Tony Robbin’s PowerTalk series on Creating a Change & Making it Last.

I highly encourage you to check it out. It talks about the laws of conditioning, and how we can unconsciously program ourselves to create new behaviors or modify existing ones by simply using three types of reinforcement: positive, negative, and punishment. The most effective (and most fun) is positive reinforcement, a.k.a. rewards.

Want to modify a small behavior like cleaning your room? Give yourself a small reward like watching half an hour of guilt free television. Want to change a big behavior like going to the gym 3 days a week? Treat yourself to a fancy dinner with friends at the end of the week to celebrate your accomplishment.

Tony Robbins also talks about “jackpot” rewards, the point of which are to prevent the rewards from becoming too predictable (and therefore ineffective). As long as you are staying on track and doing what you need to do, you can administer jackpot rewards like a trip to Europe, or an expensive flatscreen TV (not that I’m trying to put any ideas in your head).

Here are some examples of my rewards:

  • Small Rewards
    • Sour patch candy
    • Can of soda
    • Ice cream (Ben & Jerry’s)
    • Chocolate
    • Beer/wine
    • Watch Tango videos
    • Go on Facebook for 5 minutes
  • Medium Rewards
    • Dinner in a nice restaurant
    • Fun Groupon
    • Wine tasting
    • Buy something from Amazon wish list (under $50)
    • Stand up comedy DVDs
    • Running shoes
  • Big Rewards
    • Trapeze lesson on the Hudson for 2
    • Massage – deep tissue or swedish, 1 hour
    • Big technology purchase
  • JACKPOT Rewards
    • New mattress – full sized Tempurpedic
    • Vacation in Italy!

So how did I stay on track with these?

I put a task in my todo list to dish out small rewards daily, medium rewards weekly, bigger rewards monthly, and jackpot rewards sporadically.

It’s a little strange seeing as how I’m the one administering it to myself, but it’s still having a positive impact. If nothing else, it forces me to look at what I did each day and acknowledge my accomplishments.

Rewards in action

One of the biggest challenges I was facing this year was to create my first online Excel course. It was a monumental undertaking, and I was determined to see it through. To help motivate myself even further, I put up a sign behind my desk that read “ONLINE COURSE” with a sticky note identifying my reward.

Rewards Desk Sign rotated

I even went the extra step and scheduled the massage for a few days after my course was scheduled to launch. It’s a good thing too, seeing as how on the day of the launch, I had a string of negative thoughts pop into my head:

“I could have done better.
I still need to add the other lectures I didn’t finish.
I still have parts 2-5 of the course to worry about.”

But then the evening of my reward came along, and let me tell you, it’s impossible to be hard on yourself when you’re being massaged by a professional. By the way, the spa is called Rhemedy by Rhed, and I can’t sing their praises loudly enough. Judie is absolutely outstanding!

Anyway, the point is that sometimes I had trouble acknowledging my own achievements, so it’s important to force myself to remember on an unconscious level by giving myself rewards for good work. Ultimately it motivates me further, and allows me to enjoy the journey more. And isn’t that what life is all about?

It should come as no surprise that I’m creating a habit of it, and rewarding myself with another massage for each new online course that I launch. Can’t wait for the next one!

But enough about me, how about you?

What are some challenges you currently want to overcome? What are some behaviors you’d like to modify? And most fun of all, what are some rewards you can give yourself when you succeed?

Constant And Never-ending Improvement (CANI)

For those of you who don’t know Tony Robbins, stop what you’re doing (yes, that means reading this post) and familiarize yourself with his body of work.

Great, now that that’s taken care of I can share how Tony Robbins helped start a chain reaction of self-tracking in my life.

It began with the power talk series. One of my former salsa students (back when they used to call me “Gringo Salsero”) whom I made a particularly strong connection with recommended that I invest in myself. He specifically recommended an interview that Tony Robbins had with marketing genius Jay Abraham and it has been one of the best investments I have made. Check out the Power Talk series specifically.

In “A Decision to Ensure Success” one of the concepts was that of CANI (Constant and Never-ending Improvement). To systematically and incrementally enhance the main areas of my life, so that when I look back in 6 months, or a year, I can see quantum leaps in my personal and professional growth. Brian Tracy talks about this concept as well, but he calls it the 1000% Formula, which is based on the Law of Incremental Improvement. In any event, the assignment at the end of the disc was to write down 3 things every day: what did I learn, improve, and enjoy?

At the time I was already using the CarbonFin Outliner app for iPhone and iPad. What better way to stay ridiculously organized than to record my daily CANI entries in outline form? Match made in heaven, right? I thought so too.

The day was August 2nd, 2011. Little did I know that I would begin a journey of self tracking that would result in a daily ritual of tracking 9 separate metrics (more to come on those in future posts).

What worked so well about this structure for me, was the fact that it was super simple, and completely NOT intimidating. Just record 3 things each day. I could have written 1-2 sentences for each, and been done in 90 seconds. As you might have guessed however, that’s not how it went down.

Since I live in Washington Heights, I have a rather long subway ride to get home. This has always been a blessing for me, since the subway is one of the most productive work spaces ever. Where’s your most productive space? Never thought about that before? Might want to start that conversation with yourself.

Instead of riding the subway home and being bored to tears, or passing the time with mindless games that do not add any value to my life (no offense Angry Birds, but what have you given me? Really?), I began writing 2-3 paragraphs for each. It was a perfect way to pass the time, and also served as my daily journal.

At first it was a little challenging to come up with something for each of the 3 questions, but I quickly realized that I was ALWAYS learning, improving, and enjoying myself. It was just a matter of identifying them. What’s more, the best part about this process was that I found myself going about my days actively seeking things to learn, improve, and enjoy.

Believe in the law of attraction? Yeah, it was kind of like that. Tony Robbins talks about it too. What you focus on, you become.

In the words of Charles Duhigg, writing down the answers to my 3 CANI questions was the “keystone habit.” The habit that started all my other habits, and made it easier to track other things about myself. I got so good in fact, that I adopted the habit of starting new habits. And if that doesn’t blow your mind…you should watch the movie Inception. Dreams within dreams within dreams…epic.

Once again, thank you Tony Robbins.

Thought I was going to finish this post without giving you a sample of my first CANI log entry?

I’m not that much of a tease 😉



Learned that I need to stay out all day and only return home with just enough time to wind down (maybe) eat, and pretty much go to bed. If I am home early and I’m tired, it doesn’t work out well because it’s too early to go to sleep, but I’m too tired to be productive.
Also learned to take airborne at the first sign of sickness (even if just a scratchy throat)


Improved the way I’m living my life by adopting and incorporating the philosophy of CANI into my daily routine.
Improved the Shir Consulting Process from Karl’s 7 or 11 step strategic process from his work PowerPoints.
Improved the way I delegate tasks at work. I gave Rachel the task of calling Verizon which saved me a lot of time.


Enjoyed hearing my boss say that I’ve done an excellent job and knowing that I am doing a phenomenal job at not only fixing the mistakes and bringing more value to the company, but also COMMUNICATING so amazingly well that he is overjoyed with the amount of value that I bring to him and his company.
Enjoyed starting CANI questions.