Entrepreneur, Hacker and Future Mad Scientist 🚀☕

Author: Dillon Carter Page 1 of 26

Hey there! I'm a young entrepreneur who blogs about my personal experiences, hacks and lifestyle while also teaching people how to begin working with virtual assistants.

The Great Mental Models Volume 1: General Thinking Concepts by Farnam Street

Rating: 5/5

Link to Goodreads

🚀 The Book in 3 Sentences

  1. The core ideas from all fields of study contain principles that reveal how the universe works.
  2. Making better decisions comes down to understanding which models to use — simple processes that help us work through problems.
  3. By using mental models, we’re able to reduce the risk of making terrible decisions by better understanding reality.

🎨 Impressions

The book was a very quick read. Although it was written to be a reference guide to General Thinking Concepts, at least as it pertains to mental models, I thought it could go a bit deeper. The biggest question I came away with was if a framework existed for knowing exactly when to use each model. The author does prescribe a practice of keeping a log of your mental model usage as an effective feedback loop though.

Secondly, I continue to wonder how to really discover new models myself… Shane mentions a method for finding First Principles using either Socratic Questioning or The Five Whys technique, but I wanted to go deeper — I feel like I’ve been given a fish but not quite taught how.

How I Discovered It

I’ve been reading the Farnam Street blog and listening to The Knowledge Project podcast for about a year now. This was Shane’s first book on Mental Models.

Who Should Read It?

Anyone who is in a position to make important decisions or wants to eventually become that person. Additionally, someone who is quickly realizing how terrible their “gut” is at making important decisions over the long run.

☘️ How the Book Changed Me

How my life / behaviour / thoughts / ideas have changed as a result of reading the book.

  • Added a few new tools to my arsenal for making important decisions or viewing a given situation
  • Helped me to put things into perspective — mainly seeing where I truly lack (acting too confident while outside of my Circle of Competence for example)
  • Gave me a better understanding of Mental Models as a whole — what they are, how and when to use them, etc.

✍️ My Top 3 Quotes

  • Circle of Competence — “If you don’t have at least a few years and a few failures under your belt, you cannot consider yourself competent in a circle.”
  • Circle of Competence — “Learning from the experience of others is much more productive”
  • Inversion — “Instead of aiming directly for your goal, think deeply about what you want to avoid and then see what options are left over.”

📒 Summary + Notes

The key to better understanding the world is to build a latticework of mental models.

Introduction: Acquiring Wisdom

Mental Models and what they are

We humans tend to struggle when it comes to thinking rationally. Our failure to update our methods of thought come down to three major things:

  1. Not having the right perspective or vantage point
  2. Ego-induced denial
  3. Distance from the consequences of our decisions

Because we tend to ignore the all important feedback loop that is reality, we make bad decisions. As Confucius said, “A man who has committed a mistake and doesn’t correct it, is committing another mistake.” By avoiding this feedback loop we end up optimizing for short-term ego protection over long-term happiness and progress.

This is where Mental Models come into play: they allow us to find simple processes to work through problems from multiple dimensions and perspectives. The degree to which our models accurately explain reality is the degree to which they improve our thinking.

In every situation, we need to figure out which models are reliable and useful. We must also discard or update the unreliable ones, because unreliable or flawed models come with a cost: sometimes making good decisions boils down to avoiding bad ones.

The Map is Not The Territory

In other words, your perspective of reality is not reality: even the best maps are imperfect as they are reductions of what they represent. The abstraction is not the abstracted.

In order for a map or model to be as accurate as possible, we should take three important consideration into account:

  1. Reality is the ultimate update
  2. Consider the cartographer
  3. Maps can influence territories

We can use maps to guide us, but we must not let them prevent us from discovery new territory or updating our existing maps. If the aim becomes simplification rather than understanding we start to make bad decisions.

Circle of Competence

When the ego and not competence drives what we do, we operate with blind spots. A Circle of Competence is an area of true expertise, which requires at least a few years of practice and failures.

While in our Circle of Competence we are able to make decisions quickly and relatively accurately. We know what is knowable and what is unknowable and can easily distinguish between the two.

There are three key practices needed in order to build and maintain a Circle of Competence:

  1. Curiosity and a desire to learn
  2. Monitoring
  3. Feedback

While building a Circle of Competence does take time, learning from the experience of others can be a more productive use of time.

There are three parts to successfully operating outside of your Circle of Competence:

  1. Learn at least the basics of the realm you’re operating in, while acknowledging that you’re a Stranger, not a Lifer.
  2. Talk to someone whose Circle of Competence in the area is strong.
  3. Use a broad understanding of the basic mental models of the world to augment your limited understanding of the field in which you find yourself a Stranger.

In any given situation, there are people who have a circle, who have put in the time and effort to really understand the information — lean on those people. “Ignorance more often begets confidence than knowledge.” — Charles Darwin.

First Principles Thinking

If you know the first principles of something, you can build the rest of your knowledge around them to produce something new. The idea is to reduce something down to its most basic piece of truth, then building your knowledge from there, rather than arguing from analogy.

The real power of first principles thinking is moving away from random change and into choices that have a real possibility of success. To improve something, we need to understand why it is successful or not. Otherwise, we are just copying thoughts or behaviors without understanding why they worked.

If we want to identify the principles in a situation to cut through the dogma and the shared belief, there are two techniques we can use:

  1. Socratic Questioning
  2. The Five Whys

As Harrington Emerson said, “As to methods, there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.”

Thought Experiment

A Thought Experiment is a method by which you can test ideas without the risks.

A Thought Experiment generally has the following steps:

  1. Ask a question
  2. Conduct background research
  3. Construct hypothesis
  4. Test with a (thought) experiment
  5. Analyze outcomes and draw conclusions
  6. Compare to hypothesis and adjust accordingly (new questions, ect.)

What is not obvious is that the gap between what is necessary to succeed and what is sufficient is often luck, chance, or some other factor beyond your direct control.

Second-Order Thinking

Second-order thinking is thinking farther ahead and thinking holistically. While the first-order consequence of something can be immediate, the second-order is what happens because the first-order happened — following the chain of events.

There are two areas where second-order thinking can be useful:

  1. Prioritizing long-term interests over immediate gains.
  2. Constructing effective arguements.

A little time spent thinking ahead can save us massive amounts of time later.

Probabilistic Thinking

Probabilistic Thinking is essentially trying to estimate, using some tools of math and logic, the likelihood of any specific outcome coming to pass. Successfully thinking in shades of probability means roughly identifying what matters, coming up with a sense of the odds, doing a check on our assumptions, and then making a decision.


As a thinking tool it means approaching a situation from the opposite end of the natural starting point. Combining the ability to think forward and backward allows you to see reality from multiple angles. As an example, instead of aiming directly for your goal, thinking deeply about what you want to avoid and then see what options are left over.

Here’s a process for applying inversion:

  1. Identify the problem
  2. Define your objective
  3. Identify the forces that support change towards your objective
  4. Identify the forces that impede change towards the objective
  5. Strategize a solution

Think about not only what you could do to solve a problem, but what you could do to make it worse — and then avoid doing that, or eliminate the conditions that perpetuate it.

Occams’s Razor

Simpler explanations are more likely to be true than complicated ones.

Occam’s Razor is a great tool for avoiding unnecessary complexity by helping you identify and commit to the simplest explanation possible. Simplicity can increase efficiency. Focusing on simplicity when all others are focused on complexity is a hallmark of genius, and it’s easier said than done.

Hanlon’s Razor

Never attribute to malice that which is more easily explained by stupidity. Failing to prioritize stupidity over malice causes things like paranoia. Hanlon’s Razor, when practiced diligently as a counter to confirmation bias, empowers us, and gives us far more realistic and effective options for remedying bad situations. It’s harder to take advantage of, or even see, opportunities while in this defensive mode because our priority is saving ourselves.

Indistractable by Nir Eyal

Rating: 4/5
Link to Goodreads

🚀 The Book in 3 Sentences

  1. If you don’t take control of your time, someone else will.
  2. Time Boxing is a method to schedule what you’re going to do and when — Including making time for important relationships.
  3. We’re bombarded with distractions throughout the day, but there are tactics you can use to rid your life of them and focus on gaining traction.

🎨 Impressions

This book was a really nice deep-dive into the world of distraction. Although I was familiar with many of the concepts, this book would be a great primer for someone unaware of how distracted they truly are.

As I mentioned, I knew many of the strategies mentioned in the book — such as time-boxing. But, Nir Eyal did a great job explaining the importance of actually using these strategies. I particularly liked how he handles his email — tagging emails as either “Today” or “This Week” — which helps you focus on those worth your time.

I would also recommend reading some of Nir Eyal’s articles on the Indestractable Tools page of his site, which delve into specific topics like being indistractable with online articles, social media, your phone, etc…

How I Discovered It

I’ve been following all works related to productivity and systems. Nir Eyal is a very popular author in the space, so it was hard to miss this one.

Who Should Read It?

Anyone looking to better understand how to combat distractions in their lives. Additionally, if someone truly wants to add a few new strategies to their arsenal to fight distraction.

☘️ How the Book Changed Me

How my life / behaviour / thoughts / ideas have changed as a result of reading the book.

  • Clarified just how bad the problem of distraction is!
  • Offered amazing strategies for handled said distraction — email, meetings, etc..
  • Offered a method of Time-boxing that I’ve actually begun to use, where I previously didn’t.

✍️ My Top 3 Quotes

  • Being indistractable means striving to do what you say you will do.
  • As is the case with all human behavior, distraction is just another way our brands attempt to deal with pain.
  • The cure to boredom is curiosity. There is no cure to curiosity.

📒 Summary + Notes

What does being Indistractable mean?

Being indistractable means striving to do what you say you will do.

All behaviors — whether towards traction or distraction — are prompted by triggers, internal or external. Our superpower lays in understanding and controlling these triggers.

Traction (read: deep focus) is incredibly important as the jobs of the future are those that require creative problem-solving, novel solutions, and the kind of human ingenuity that comes from focusing deeply on the task at hand.

Imagine the types of jobs that will exist as automation becomes more applied…

Controlling Internal Triggers

When you become distracted, it’s always because you’re running away from pain. Distraction is always an unhealthy escape from reality.

Epicurus said, ” By pleasure, we mean the absence of pain in the body and of trouble in the soul.”

There are four reasons we seek distraction:

  1. Boredom — we will literally shock ourselves to avoid boredom.
  2. Negativity Bias — Where negative events demand attention more powerfully than neutral or positive events.
  3. Rumination — Reliving an event or situation over and over again, unable to stop thinking about it.
  4. Hedonic Adaptation — The tendency to quickly return to a baseline level of satisfaction.

Dissatisfaction is responsible for our species’ advancements and faults. To harness its power, we must disavow the incorrect idea that if we’re not happy we’re not normal. In fact, the opposite is true.

When considering your Internal Triggers, there are four steps to reimagine the trigger itself:

  1. Look for the discomfort the precedes the distraction, focusing in on the internal trigger itself.
  2. Write down the trigger.
  3. Explore your sensations — consider the Leaves on a Stream method.
  4. Beware of Liminal Moments — Transitions from one task to another throughout the day. Don’t get caught in the “for just a second” trap that leads to another hour wasted. Instead, us the “ten minute rule”, where you cannot give in until ten minutes has past.

When it comes to being Indistractable with your tasks, forget what “fun” should feel like. Instead, try seeing the task in a new way — rather than running away from your pain, pay close attention to finding new challenges you didn’t see before.

Remember, operating under constraints is the key to creativity and fun. More importantly, remember that the cure to boredom is curiosity, and there is no cure to curiosity.

The greatest thinkers of history made discoveries because they were obsessed with discovery itself. The mystery pulls us in closer and closer to the problem at hand.

The quest to solve these mysteries is what shifts our focus from seeking distraction (to deal with the pain) to an activity we want to partake in.

Making time to be Indistractable

Before you can make time to focus on what’s important, you need to decide what is important. To do that, we need to determine what are values are.

A value is a guiding star in that it’s a fixed point used to navigate our life choices. By neglecting our values, we miserable, which increases the probability that we seek distractions.

Seneca said, “People are frugal in guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time, they are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy.”

The most effective way to ensure we’re protecting our time is using a method called Time Boxing — where you decide what you’re going to do, and when you’re going to do it.

The trick is that it actually doesn’t matter what you plan on doing. As long as you’re doing what you planned, you’re being successful.

The simplest method for using the Time Boxing method is to create calendar events on your calendar, and decide what will be done when. Then, schedule a fifteen-minute block at the end of the week to review, asking the following questions; 1) “When in my schedule did I do what I said I would do and when did I get distracted?”, and 2) “Are there changes I can make to my calendar that will give me the time I need to better live out my values?”

Remember, The one thing we can control is the time we put into a task…

When looking at the things to add to your calendar, start with yourself, as you’re at the core of everything else in your life — meditation, sleep, etc. There are three Domains to consider; You, Relationships, and then Work. Time Box in that sequence.

Once you’ve made time to take care of yourself (meditate, exercise, read), then you should make time for your important relationships. That’s right, actually schedule time on your calendar for spending time with the people you love, even if you live in the same house.

A seventy-five-year study came to a simple conclusion — “good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.” Waldinger (the author of the study) went on to clarify, “It’s not just the number of friends you have… It’s the quality of your close relationships that matters.”

To have satisfying relationships, you need three things — somebody to talk to, someone to depend on, and someone to enjoy.

Hacking External Triggers to Stay Focused

The author goes into strategies for hacking different types of external triggers, such as email, meetings, articles, etc…

While there are great ideas for each — such as using apps like Instapaper to never read article that come up throughout the day or turning off auto-play next episode on streaming sites like Netflix or using Chrome Extension apps like the Newsfeed Eradicator for social media sites — my highlights only covered the email section.

Rather than replying to every email that comes through, the author has a unique approach — first thing in the morning, tag each email in your inbox as either “Today” or “This Week,” which puts each email into one of the two folders. Then, he schedules a daily time on his calendar to only respond to the emails tagged as “Today.” The “This Week” emails will be handled on Friday at a predetermined time.

Taking things a step further, the author also delays the message to the latest time possible (using a tool like Mixmax in Gmail), which reduces the volley of emails responded to. He asks a simple question, “When’s the latest this person needs to see this reply?”

Inbox Zero and How to Hit It Daily

Hitting the elusive Inbox Zero with email has always been an interesting topic for me. On one hand, email is a fantastic tool. On the other hand, literally nobody seems to understand the rules of the game

When email was first created, we didn’t have an “email problem”. It wasn’t until advertising dug into email marketing and Crackberries becoming as common as your toothbrush did things start to spiral out of control. 

As is with most technologies, understanding how they are designed is important. 

Personally, I’ve never had a terrible time achieving Inbox Zero on a daily basis. My methodology has certainly evolved over time as new tools became available. 

Below I’ll share what tools I use to make life easier and the methodology that will put email back in its place; a simple tool with a simple job. 

Deciding What App to Use

Simply put, there is no one email app or tool that will solve all of your problems. Email is a human behavior problem, not a technology problem. Once we can accept this as reality, our views on email quickly change. 

With that being said, I personally use and love Gmail for the backbone of my email system and use the Spark email app on all of my devices to interact with emails. 

Inbox Zero

Simply using the default Gmail application is plenty in most cases, including mine. I choose to use Spark because of a few small features like Snoozing an email and having multiple inboxes in one view.

When faced with the massive decision fatigue that is choosing an email application you should focus on a few variables:

1. Is the application free?  

Applications that have a cost are not bad by any means, but you need something you can quickly jump in and out of for testing. You never want to find yourself stuck in a paid application only to realize it’s missing a major feature. 

2. Does it have basic features?

By basic features, I don’t mean sending and receiving emails. I mean the ability to Snooze emails, Add comments (mainly for work related emails), and “Template” responses, which we’ll talk more about later. 

3. Is it cross-platform?

We are a multi-device species. In a given day I may handle emails on my iPhone, my Macbook Pro or my iPad Pro. Regardless of the device, I want to easily apply my methodology without fail. 

If you’re still dealing with decision fatigue, give Spark a try as it hits all of the criteria above and even works with Siri Shortcuts for added automation features. 

My Inbox Zero Methodology

It’s a bold claim to say that I have a methodology that will allow you to hit Inbox Zero daily but the reality is that’s easier than you would think. In fact, I hit Inbox Zero within 10-15 minutes most days

As a quick aside, this is not my original work. I’m pulling from different mentors and frameworks that I’ve learned from over the years and I’ll mention them within each applicable section as a reference if you want to dive deeper into any area. 

1. Your inbox is not a task list

At some point in the last 10-15 years we decided that other people could walk into our lives and tell us what to do. I’m not talking about our bosses or clients but literally anyone. It’s as if we’ve given a key to our home to anyone who asks. That’s a brief description of how humans subconsciously view email and it’s terribly wrong. 

Your Inbox is a waiting room where other people bid for your attention. Your first task is to quickly decide who is worth your attention and who isn’t. 

By shifting your view of email as a waiting room, rather than a task list, you’ll begin to view each email more critically. 

2. It’s an Inheritance Problem  

To continue on point one, not only do we view each email as a task but we also view it as a task that should be completed immediately. At what point did we agree that email is above all sacred? 

Like any other task item that comes into your life, email needs to be prioritized relative to every other task and project currently on your list. 

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. If an email takes less than 2-minutes to respond to, do it. Otherwise, add it to your task list. I personally use the Todoist integration with Spark, which allows me to add a new task item to Todoist without leaving Spark, including a link to the email. 

Overall, I follow the Getting Things Done methodology by David Allen, using my Todoist “Inbox” to dump anything that comes my way. Once there, I can then add each task to its appropriate Project, decide if it’s a high or medium priority, and when it should get done. 

I would highly recommend that you watch a video by Tiago Forte to better understand how I clear my inbox and add emails as tasks. 

Fun fact, emails do not require you to respond within 24 hours unless previously agreed upon by both parties, such as a client as an example. 

Here’s another guide on how I use Todoist in my Nerdy Planning System.

3. Cutting the Garbage Out

Most emails (90%+) hitting your Inbox are not worth your time. We all know this but it’s time to revoke access. A simple method is to unsubscribe from newsletters. 

I use three methods (in order) for handling newsletters:

  1. Create a Gmail filter that moves any email whose body contains the word “unsubscribe” to a new Folder, skipping the Inbox entirely of course, named “Optional”
  2. Actually unsubscribe from newsletters you want to stop receiving by clicking the unsubscribe link one-by-one or forwarding them to Unsubscribe Robot to do it for you
  3. Lastly, use a tool like Unroll.me to receive just one email per day containing all of the newsletters you do what to see. 

The above process quickly frees up your Inbox, deletes the crap, continues to do so over time, and allows you to check one email per day for the X number you still want to view. 

That is how you quickly streamline your Inbox and begin focusing on the emails that truly require your attention. 

4. Applying the 3 D’s 

What’s left over from step 3 are emails worth our attention. Or, more precisely, they are from actual humans wanting our specific attention.

As mentioned in step 2, we shouldn’t simply start replying to each email one-by-one. For many this may sound odd. Rather than scheduling time to sit down, filtering my emails, and then reply to each one, I only do the filtering step. 

Simply put, I move from one email to the next and make a single decision; Do, Delegate or Delete. By Do I mean there is an action to be taken. 

If an email can be deleted, I quickly do that. 

If an email needs to be delegated to a team member, I quickly forward the email to that person. 

If an email requires me to respond in-full, review something or take an action of any kind, I add it to my Todoist Inbox to be prioritized relative to every other task. When an email is added to my Todoist Inbox, I also Archive that email. It’s not deleted but it’s out of my sight and will be reopened using the link that Todoist added to the task. 

I see too many people leaving emails in their Inbox as a reminder to do something or as a task list. Your email Inbox is not a task list. A task list is a task list. 

I first learned about the 3 D’s from Ari Meisel. 

5. Using Templates for Standard Responses

I’m naturally an automation dork but sometimes you need a third party to validate your thoughts on a given topic. I’m a firm believer in SOPs and standardizing your work to streamline the entire process. 

Most emails seem to follow a pattern. It’s a common question you get from clients or team members. It’s a family member asking for your address or your girlfriends name for the 14th time in a row. Either way, creating Template responses can save you a large amount of time when it comes to handling your email. 

A Template Response is a well thought out response to a specific question that is saved and used repeatedly. 

Template Responses have been around for a while now, including the Canned Responses in the Gmail application, but one book really put this into perspective for me. Here’s a brief excerpt…  

I get requests like this practically every day, and for every one, I would have no time left to do anything else. Of course, I could hire an assistant just to handle all of those incoming requests, but why? Instead, for each one of these things, I spend a little time crafting the perfect response, and then I use that response over and over again.

Free to Focus by Michael Hyatt

In other words, stop repeating yourself. Solve the problem once and put your solution to good use.

Your time is far more important than rewriting the same email over and over again. Only for the quality of that response to go down with each rewrite, losing valuable quality. Instead, take time to write a thoughtful response and use it each time, putting your email partly on auto-pilot. 

6. Stop Manually Scheduling Meetings

One thing that is a major pet-peeve is wasting time going back and forth to schedule a meeting. Believe it or not, there are tools that are very cheap, if not free, that allow you to hand off this task to a computer. 

One I apply very heavily is Calendly, which uses a single link for easy scheduling. You send your link to the person you want to schedule a meeting with and they will only see the time slots available on your calendar, ensuring no back-and-forth and no double-booking, and on days/slots you want to make available. 

With this type of scheduling system, you not only put scheduling on auto-pilot, you take control of it. 

Where things start to get really fun is through combining a Template Response with a scheduling link to save even more time. I personally have 15, and 30 minute meeting links, each saved as a Template Response that can be fired off with two little clicks. 

Here’s an example of what that scheduling email looks like:

7. Setting Barriers for Your Email

Unless dealing with clients or generating revenue, emails are not something that needs to be handled now. Instead, create barriers for who can and cannot get through the gates. Being a startup founder means a massive increase of emails from marketing companies, business development people, and many others. Just because someone sent you an email does not mean you’re required to respond back. 

Be ruthless in your pursuit for finding emails that actually add value. As the founder of Superhuman said, “A fun little game I like to play is where is the work?” This wonderfully illustrates how insane email can become.

8. You Do Not Need an Assistant to Manage Your Email

If you need to hire another human to manage your email, you’re only shifting the problem to them. First Principles would dictate that you solve the actual problem first. I know it makes you feel more important to have an Executive Assistant managing your email but it’s an utter waste of human potential. Instead, solve the real problem and hire someone for a more important role, something worthy of human hours. 

What’s the Future of Email?

I obviously cannot tell you what the future holds for email. What I can tell you is how it’s evolving. Companies like Superhuman and Heyy are wanting to shift how we interact with email as a communication tool. 

Rather than solving the problem with new features, Superhuman applies game design and theory to its users, teaching them better email habits. Heyy has specifically attempted to  redesign the email experience as a whole, hoping to create email 2.0. 

Will any of this catch on? I’m not sure. However, I am very confident that we have the necessary mechanics and methodologies to negate the Email Problem now.  

my nerdy productivity system using Airtable and Todoist

My Nerdy Planning System: Airtable + Todoist + Zapier

Recently I was asked how I manage so many projects (started two successful companies, graduated college full-time with a 3.49 GPA, and still have a girlfriend). What I’ve designed is taken from a few different people and put together. I’ll link to each resource that I used while piecing this wonderful system together. 

my personal productivity stack

A high-level overview of my system is that I reverse-engineer what I want to accomplish each year into daily tasks that are easy to execute. 

Let’s Dive Into the Details

The below structure was adopted (read: totally stolen) from the incredible Nat Eliason’s blog post on setting goals using Airtable

Like I mentioned above, I like to reverse-engineer what I want to accomplish for every aspect of my life that I personally find important. By doing so, I’m able to easily see my life as one large picture and how one thing may relate to another. 

First, I start with my Annual Goals, broken down by category (Business, Personal, Health, Class, etc). For each category, I like to have 2-3 massive outcomes planned. Keep in mind that these are not tasks but massive goals that I’ll need to turn into projects or tasks throughout the year. 

To make this concrete, let’s use an annual goal of Aura (my SaaS company) hitting $1.5m in ARR. 

Second, I sit down each quarter and review my Annual goals to determine what would need to be accomplished to achieve them. These new ideas become my Quarterly Goals. 

What should I accomplish this quarter to be on track to hit my annual goal of doing $1.5m in ARR? Based on current bottlenecks I would say hiring a second full-time engineer would have the highest positive impact. 

Third, I’ll sit down each month and do the same for my Monthly Goals as I did with my Quarterly Goals above. 

Now that I have a good idea of what I need to accomplish for the quarter, I can break that down into just what I can do this month; conduct 20+ cultural interviews and at least 10 technical interviews. 

Lastly, I set down each Sunday afternoon to break down my Monthly Goals into Daily Tasks that can be accomplished this week. I try to have 2-3 critical tasks for each day across all of my goals. 

To easily hit my monthly goal, I’ll most likely need to do the following:

Monday – Create job requirements

Tuesday – Post job listing on 5 remote working job boards

Thursday – Filter through initial candidates and schedule 30-minute cultural interviews for the following week

Friday – Ask my network for any potential candidates that would be a great fit and looking for a new role.

What we’ve essentially done is take a very large goal of doing $1.5m in annual revenue and broken it down into actionable tasks that can be done starting Monday. 

In other words: Annual Goals -> Quarterly Goals -> Monthly Goals -> Daily Tasks to complete. 

The point here is that each of the tasks assigned to this week relates to my Monthly Goals and so on. 

It may seem like a lot at once but I’m only looking at my Weekly breakdown throughout each week. When put into practice It’s oddly calming to know that if you just accomplish this week’s tasks everything else will settle into place with ease. 

using Airtable as a productivity tool

Creating a Routine

It’s essential to create a routine of reverse-engineering your goals. Otherwise, how do you know that you’re on track? Just as important, basing your weekly tasks off your Monthly/Quarterly/Annual goals keeps you on track. It’s easy to get “shiny object syndrome” being an entrepreneur. We all know how important focus is in the long-term. Why not make that easier on ourselves? 

For my routine, I’ve developed what I call Maintenance Day, which is a set group of tasks that when completed each Sunday ensure the following week is a massive success. Essentially, I’m “maintaining” my life to stay on track. 

Finding the Nerdy Glue 

Let’s get this out of the way… It’s actually super hard for me to not automate something these days. Being very busy means that I never want to waste a second of my time if I don’t have to. 

Part of my nerdy obsession is connecting my Airtable base with Todoist. Why? Because I work from Todoist in my day-to-day life. That’s right, even the Daily tasks in my Airtable are pushed over to Todoist. The reason for this is that I obviously have more tasks than just the 2-3 critical few that need to be accomplished. Why jump between tools when I’m getting deep work accomplished? 

my amazing Todoist task list set up

To streamline my daily execution, I have a Zapier “Zap” created that triggers every time I “complete’ a task in Todoist. It then searches my Airtable and checks off any found tasks. In doing so, the Airtable becomes “self-updating/correcting”. 

You can copy my Zapier Zap here

To clarify, I use Airtable mainly for planning and Todoist for the actual execution of things. Because Todoist is incredibly fast at adding new tasks throughout the day, I work from there 90% of the time. 

A final change I could make is to have Zapier create new Todoist tasks when a new Weekly Task is added to the Airtable to further streamline my process. Either way, What Nat has put together is fantastic alone. This is simply my nerdy adjustment and how I take such a framework and execute on it daily using Todoist. 

How to Successfully Use Defaults to Streamline Your Life

Defaults are an amazing limitation one can easily apply to their personal life. A default (like the name implies) is your go-to choice for anything from the airline you always fly with (unless you’re a travel hacker) to the brand of t-shirts you always wear. 

Usually, the process is the following: problem -> consideration -> decision -> solution. 

If we take a little time upfront to determine what our default should be in any given situation (the consideration and decision phases), we can easily eliminate half of the equation. 

Here’s a shortlist of my current defaults:

To further streamline my life, I’ve created a List within my Amazon Prime account named “Defaults” so that anyone could jump into the list without thought and replace or reorder something that I routinely use. Even better, I can use a tool like CamelCamelCamel to easily alert me of massive price drops to stock up or take advantage if wanted. 

Although not holistic, the above list should give you an easy idea of where defaults could fit into your own life. I urge you to not stop at just physical products but to expand your defaults into other aspects of your life; the same lunch during the workweek (this alone is a game-changer), only wearing Omega brand watches, only getting a Grande White Chocolate Mocha from Starbucks (don’t judge me) or only holding work meetings on Mondays. 

Regardless of the aspect of your life, you can easily find defaults that better serve you than having to continually make the same decision every single day. Now, let’s talk about Decision Fatigue for a quick moment. 

The Problem With Decision Fatigue 

Decision fatigue is a plague that leads to unproductive time throughout each day. What should we eat for lunch? Where should we go to replace our favorite t-shirt? What airline should we book our flight on for an upcoming trip? These endless decisions create an overwhelming mountain of mental fatigue that further takes away from what’s actually important. 

Not only are these decisions fatiguing but they’re also repetitive – leading to daily overwhelming and task decay. In a blog post from Rescue Time, they found “the average user switches between tasks more than 300 times per day (and this was only during working hours!)”

That’s a single day. Imagine what negative compounding is happening after just a few weeks of this. 

Defaults Lead to Automation/Streamlining 

I first started learning about defaults thanks to my rather (un)healthy obsession with automating the majority of my personal and professional life. When it comes to automation, standardizing your inputs is paramount to achieve consistency of quality and execution. If we replace the word standardize with default, it’s relatively the same thing. From this perspective, better defaults lead to a streamlining or automation of your life in the areas that drain you the most.

Tools like Instacart are only as good as the inputs they’re given. When you eat the same breakfast and lunch during the week, it’s much easier to completely automate your grocery shopping or have a bot quickly replace your favorite t-shirt via a Slack message. 

Deploying Explore / Exploit Algorithms

Another fantastic outcome of using defaults is that it ensures quality. I’m not sure about you but I have the biggest buyers regret when it comes to shopping for clothes. If I don’t already own the specific item, I’ve got a roughly 60% chance of regretting my buying decision within the following hour of the transaction. 

One method I can deploy to easily handle buyers’ regret is an algorithmic approach I learned from reading Algorithms to Live By by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths. The book looks at various algorithms that can easily apply to general life. One that I found most applicable is the idea of Explore / Exploit. This algorithm states that you should take a period of time (perhaps using an Optimal Stopping algorithm) to explore various options. In this first phase, you’re simply “tasting” a bunch of different options. Next, you would “Exploit” the best option found from the Explore phase. 

A great example of this could be purchasing t-shirts from 5 different brands (the Explore phase). Once you’ve tested all 5 you would then choose the best option as your new default (Exploit). 

You can also do this with restaurants (sometimes you want to Explore new options but when you’re not feeling adventurous, you should Exploit the best options using a tool like FourSquare to easily track your previous reviews). 

This is a very interesting perspective to view the mechanics of your life. A perspective that could lead to a better life altogether. I’ve found that the reduction of things, whether personal or professional, leads to more success. This seems to be the opposite of my assumption that a successful life requires more complexity. Rather, a simplified life leads to more success. 

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