What are the 80/20 products, habits and beliefs that have made an outsized impact on your life in 2021?
This was the topic of one of the episodes on the Sh*t You Don’t Learn in School podcast by Steph Smith and Calvin Rosser.
The 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto principle, says that roughly 80% of your results will come from 20% of your actions. The core interpretation is that you need to identify your best assets and maximize them to gain the maximum value.
I started thinking — what were the 20% of my actions that led to 80% of my results? Obviously, this is not a hard-and-fast mathematical law, but it’s a good exercise to think through. It fits my 2022 resolution of consistently simplifying what I’m doing: determine what’s working and double down on that. Remove everything else.
Before I knew it, I had a list of 13 things I feel have been instrumental for me this year and could be valuable for anyone looking to make changes in their lives — ranging from productivity and learning to health and mindset.
Here they are, in no particular order.
#1 Kindle ft. Readwise
Outsized impact: more non-fiction reading and deeper engagement with the content
I’ve been a Kindle convert for a long time, but it’s since I’ve started using Readwise that reading has become so impactful for me.
Books are great, but if you don’t take notes and regularly review these notes, it’s unlikely you remember much of what you’ve been learning.
Simply put, Readwise is a tool that helps you extract all your highlights and notes from different apps and platforms and stores them in one central location. All my highlights are automatically exported to my note-taking app, Roam. I’ve written in more detail how I use Readwise and how I use Roam.
Don’t feel like you need to have a perfect system from the beginning. Just starting by highlighting your favourite passages and collecting them in a central database is a game changer.
#2 Garmin Watch and monthly step challenges
Outsized impact: daily walks and a bias for movement
I initially bought a Garmin Venu watch to track my running and ended up using it for the most basic thing: counting steps.
Every month, I registered for the 300k steps challenge on the Garmin app. The point is to record 300k steps by the end of the month. I did it for 11 months but had to throw in the towel in December, thanks to a very sedentary 10-day Covid isolation.
The common health advice to take 10,000 steps per day turns out to be more of a marketing accident than based on science, but setting this goal for myself was still so powerful.
I’ve started loving going out for walks, sometimes multiple times per day — rain or shine.
The most surprising result was how I’ve developed a bias for movement. A trip to the supermarket for one single item or not finding a parking spot close to the restaurant — these things used to annoy me. Minimal effort, please. Since signing up for these challenges, I considered every step a step closer to my goal. After a while, the annoying feeling wouldn’t come up anymore. It’s like I had trained my brain to enjoy and prioritize movement without giving it a second thought.
If you’re struggling with getting enough movement, adding this gamification layer can be incredibly effective.
#3 Long-form Journaling
Outsized impact: a deeper understanding of yourself and what matters to you
Journaling is the one thing on this list I wish I could make every single person try.
I know it’s challenging to start and push through the thoughts that immediately come up: “why am I doing this; this is silly; this is a waste of time; I don’t have anything to say.”
All I can say is, if you can find the willpower to keep going, you will quickly start seeing the benefits of journaling. It is life-changing.
I’ve been writing every day in my One Line A Day journal for eight years. This year, I also started long-form journaling — a writing style where you fill the page with your stream of consciousness, like a brain dump. Just a few times a week, whenever I feel like I have a lot of things going on in my head. Anything I’m worried, stressed, sad or happy about — I write it down. I’ve been amazed by the honesty, clarity and direction I’ve gotten out of this habit. The problems that feel big in your head look small on paper.
You’ll get the most out of this if you regularly read back through your entries. I try to do this every quarter, answering three simple questions: what has gone well, what has not gone well, and what have I learned for the next quarter? Like American psychologist John Dewey says, “we don’t learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.”
#4 Charging my phone in another room
Outsized impact: save hours of aimless scrolling
This year, I’ve been trying to be more focused when I’m working. Reading books like Deep Work and Indistractable taught me this is only possible if you can train your mind on being less dependent on distractions.
A small change that has made a big difference is charging my phone in another room, both at night and during the day.
Out of sight, out of my mind.
No scrolling aimlessly before going to sleep or grabbing my phone first thing in the morning. No using my phone as a distraction the minute I feel bored or stuck while working. The only downside is that you’ll develop a reputation amongst your friends as being a lousy texter :)
Outsized impact: get organized with all your tasks and random things you want to remember
Notion calls itself the all-in-one workspace for your notes, tasks, wikis and databases. It’s one of the most popular note-taking tools on the market, ideal for creating productivity-focused workflows and storing information in a structured manner.
I’ve noticed the biggest impact in organizing my to-dos, feeling more efficient and on top of things.
I adopted a simplified version of the productivity system Getting Things Done by David Allen. The idea is you dump all your mental clutter into an external system and then organize it so you can focus on the right things at the right times. Keeping every single thing in your head, especially small admin tasks (payments, follow-ups, errands), can feel stressful. Having a system you can trust alleviates the burden of trying to remember it all.
You can read more about my process and template for Notion here.
#6 Standing desk and balance board
Outsized impact: make working from home more active and enjoyable
I hesitated to get a standing desk for a while as I wasn’t sure I’d use it enough, but it’s been such a great purchase.
Working from home, for all its benefits, is not always easy. It can get tiring and a bit lonely. A standing desk and a balance board have made it more fun, and switching between standing and sitting down shakes things up a bit (the bar is low these days).
I’ve noticed that standing up for a few hours and doing some basic exercises, like toe raises and hamstring curls, make me feel more focused and engaged while working.
Outsized impact: quick and healthy breakfasts
If you’re like me and struggle to eat enough veggies in regular meals, smoothies are the way to go.
Throw in some frozen fruit and veggies, nuts and oats, and you have a super healthy and filling breakfast. Spinach, broccoli or carrots. A bit of peanut butter for extra protein. Beetroot and ginger. I admit it doesn’t always taste great, but it’s super healthy! Plus, it’s super filling, so you can skip lunch or have something small.
#8 Interview Podcasts
Outsized impact: direct access to the minds of the most interesting and diverse people
I’ve been listening mostly to interview-based shows like How To Fail, Slo Mo, and the Tim Ferris Show this year. It’s incredible to have direct access to conversations with these interesting people — scientists, writers, psychologists, entrepreneurs, spiritual leaders, athletes.
You can find practically anyone you want to learn more about on some podcast. Just go to wherever you listen to your podcasts (I use Apple Podcasts), type in their name, and you’ll get a list of episodes they’ve appeared on.
I have discovered many new people, leading me to other interesting people, books, courses, ideas. Kicking off this online writing journey and finally daring to put myself out there without worrying what people will think can be traced back to what I’ve learned from listening to these interviews. It has even opened my mind to have more of these kinds of open and genuine conversations in my own life.
Podcasts have also made me aware that I have no idea what other people go through, and I shouldn’t be so quick to judge or assume. Instead, I’ve learned about sacrifice, forgiveness, vulnerability, shame. All those human emotions and experiences that are hard to talk about are openly shared in these stories.
#9 Calendar blocking ft. recurring invites
Outsized impact: be intentional about my schedule
It’s cliche, but it’s true: what gets scheduled gets done.
I started the habit of time-blocking, a popular productivity approach for managing your schedule. Since then, I was able to get a lot more done and, most importantly: do what I said I’d do.
It’s simple: you divide each day up into blocks of time and decide in advance what you’ll do in that time. The majority of the day is taken up by work meetings, but everything before, in between, and after, gets assigned a task or activity. That includes social activities, writing, gym, calling a friend, etc.
This doesn’t need to be as extreme or obsessive as it sounds. It just takes a few minutes every day, and you can reschedule things as you wish. I’ve just noticed that if I don’t plan it, and see it on my calendar, it doesn’t get done.
For writing, I have a recurring invite for 30 minutes every morning. If I don’t have time, I’ll move it to another time in the day that works. Having it appear every day makes sure I build a consistent writing habit and don’t let other things get in the way.
#10 Weekly Sunday Review
Outsized impact: clear overview of priorities for the week
The best way to make progress is by being clear on what you need to work on and what you want to accomplish by the end of the week.
Every weekend, I’ll carve out an hour to review what I did, how my week went, and what I will work on next. I’ll process notes, add tasks to Notion, add blocks to my calendar, and anticipate upcoming meetings and events for which I need to prepare.
I have a simple checklist in Notion that I use to structure this review. You can read this detailed Todoist article if you want to get started on your weekly review.
#11 Go-To Principles
Outsized impact: immediate mindset shift when feeling overwhelmed or stressed
In my Apple Notes, I created a pinned note with a list of phrases that I think of whenever I feel stressed, annoyed or stuck. Just saying one of those phrases aloud in my head helps me snap out of whatever mood I’m in. I guess you could call them principles, or values, or mantras. They are like shortcuts for my mind, and they work every single time.
Just a few examples:
- Assume good intent
- Choose not to take things personally
- Everything is figureoutable
- Actively seek discomfort
- When in doubt, just start moving
#12 One Simple Question
Outsized impact: a quick reminder to keep things simple and light
Asking myself this question always helps me take a step back and get out of my head. If I’m feeling stressed or overwhelmed, it’s usually because I’m overcomplicating something or thinking too far ahead.
Far too often, we convince ourselves things need to be difficult and that if we aren’t in some mental or physical turmoil, we are doing something wrong or not trying hard enough. As a result, we can sometimes actively seek out the path of most resistance and intentionally make things more complicated than they need to be.
Ask yourself this question to keep things in perspective.
#13 Writing online
Outsized impact: a creative outlet, future-proof skills and attitudes, and additional income
Obviously, I couldn’t leave out writing.
As a Millennial born in 1988, I am part of the ‘In-between Generation’. We spent much of our early lives without smartphones and social media but have been using them for so long we’d be considered natives. Yet writing and sharing anything online always felt too indulgent, too vulnerable, too awkward. What will people think? Who am I to write about this? Writing online has been a fundamental mindset shift for me.
I’ve learned so much from not just writing but everything that comes with it. There are so many tasks that come before, during and after. Reading, researching, formatting, distribution, planning, connecting and collaborating with other writers, using various digital tools and platforms, tracking statistics, etc. It’s about learning to deal with uncertainty, self-motivation, embarrassment, imposter syndrome, and persistence.
In the spirit of “You can’t find your voice if you don’t use it”, I’m super excited to have finally started, and hopefully, I can inspire some other people to do the same along the way.