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Why you should take an online class

Cal Newport, the prolific author, professor and thinker, explains the importance of exposing yourself to other people’s ideas. He explains that you need to fill yourself up with lots of perspectives and models of living.

I knew this meant reading books, listening to podcast, and watching documentaries about interesting people. But I didn’t realize I’d get even more value from a Skillshare workshop.

Lessons from Ali Abdaal’s Productivity workshop

As Ali Abdaal goes over “productivity principles” he reveals his model of living. And it has broadened my perspective. I want to share some of the most insightful ideas from his class. And if I don’t manage to convince you you take a Skillshare class, I hope that I at least give you some food for thought.

Stay on route

The course starts with the analogy of Pilot, Plane & Engineer to describe the different ways we get things done. Here is a breakdown of his analogy:

  • As the pilot, you think through and plans your activities.
  • When you act as the plane, you carry out the tasks and stay on course.
  • In the role of engineer, you ensure that things are efficient and organized.

Let’s consider a long road trip. You plan your trip and then drive however many hours it takes to get there. You will probably stop for gas at some point and maybe you shift lanes to avoid a knucklehead driver.

But you stay on your route and you don’t question your destination. The important thing is to trust the route laid out by the pilot.

For me sticking to the plan is the hardest part. I have the most clarity in the mornings and that’s when I prioritize my activities. I may make minor deviations, but I get the most done if I stay on route.

But how do you get all the things done on your task list? You get better by training as you would for a sport.

Time management muscle

Ali talks about his classmate during med school, who, in addition to his main courses, studied Arabic. Where did he find the time? This was his classmate’s answer:

“Time is like a muscle. The more you squeeze into it and the more you use it well, the more it grows. And the more you realize you can actually fit in with your time.”

Ali Abdaal, working full time in medicine, still finds time every week to crank out a YouTube video, blog post, podcast, etc. He finds success in part because he has fun doing those things. And he also has the time because his time management muscle is finely toned.

Ever heard this expression? “If you want something done, give it to a busy person.” You build momentum as you make time for more stuff and it becomes easier. One trick for building momentum is to start with the smallest version of the task.

Five-minute rule

We face less resistance when we continue something than when we start completely fresh. Try to turn the wheels on your car while parked. Ok, fine. If your car is not from the 80’s it has power steering. But you get the idea.

Ali’s rule that works for me is to start out by doing five minutes of a task. Write a few lines. Or do those jumping jacks and situps for a mere five minutes. I almost always spend more time on the activity, but I get started with a tiny commitment.

Ali uses the example of how he makes a new YouTube video. He doesn’t begin with a full script or an elaborate plan. He starts by setting up his cameras and lights. And that leads him into the next step and to the next, which eventually results in one of his hugely popular videos.

As the author James Clear describes it in his book Atomic Habits, you can start even shorter. Here’s what he says about the two minute rule.

“This is a powerful strategy because once you’ve started doing the right thing, it is much easier to continue doing it. A new habit should not feel like a challenge. The actions that follow can be challenging, but the first two minutes should be easy. What you want is a “gateway habit” that naturally leads you down a more productive path.”

— James Clear, How to Stop Procrastinating

** You might also like my article – The Best Skill I Learned from Ali Abdaal Skillshare Classes **

Choose your Daily Highlight

Ali deliberately chooses his highlight for the day. He makes sure to get that one thing done for the day to have a solid win.

It is amazing what I have been able to do during my “downtime.” Between meetings, during a commute, or even learning something useful while in the bathroom. I like this lesson because it allows you to have more control over your day and what you accomplish.

“Your highlight gives each day a focal point. Research shows that the way you experience your days is not determined primarily by what happens to you. In fact, you create your own reality by choosing what you pay attention to. ”

— Jake Knapp (Choose a Highlight to Make Time Every Day)

Active Reflection

Ali offered an active reflection question at the end of each lesson to re-frame your outlook. The following question helped me think seriously about productive procrastination.

“What items on my bucket list can I procrastinate my way to progress on?”

His example was his goal to perform music and watching musicians encourages him to do that. For me watching people make electronics on YouTube strengthens my determination to build my own.

Have fun with it

The happiness level you are at now is the same level you will be at for your entire life. Research has proven this, whether you like it or not. So don’t postpone your enjoyment of life.

I am dead set on having fun today. What is the point of being productive if you’re not going to enjoy it? Re-frame your activities as opportunities.

One activity you can enjoy today is starting an online course. I got much more out of this Skillshare class than I expected. Hopefully, I find even better techniques to replace these and improve my days. The goal is just to keep on learning and growing.

More Resources

📖 Productivity Masterclass – Ali Abdaal (Skillshare)

Less than two hours and super fun. I watched this over a few days using my two free weeks from Skillshare.

🎉 The Power of the 30-Day Challenge – Jono

A great way to get through a class it to commit to a 30 day challenge! You can start something new anytime, but you could tell yourself finding this article is your excuse to start today?

📝 How to Stop Procrastinating – James Clear

This article describes the Two Minute rule. It is an excerpt from the great book Atomic Habits.

Choose a Highlight to Make Time Every Day – Jake Knapp

This excerpt from the book Make Time talks about choosing your highlight for the day.

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