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Success Advice

The Number One Thing to Stop Doing to Become More Effective

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We all have this crazy love-hate relationship with our To-Do list, right? (Ok, for many it might be straight-up hate or profound avoidance.) I get it because I talk to clients about it every day.

But there’s one major problem with how most of us approach our to-do list: We become obsessed with getting it ALL done ASAP! We start creating “Dream Lists” of 15-20 things that we are determined to complete today. Then, we only knock out 4-6 of them because other things get in the way, and we feel frustrated and depressed. Does this sound familiar?

If so, then I’m going to tell you the one secret that can immediately shift that destructive and disempowering pattern in your life. Even better, it’s something for you to STOP doing…Stop confusing your “Master List” for your “Today List.”

 

1. What is your “Master List”?

We all have dozens, if not hundreds, of things on our plates. Writing them down allows you to reflect and prioritize your actions. Capturing those tasks in one consistent place (a notebook, software app, etc), establishes the beginning of your “Master List.”

Your “Master List” is the one place where all your actions live. It’s where all those possible actions hang out until you’re ready for them. But, it’s not what you work from during each day. Trying to work from your “Master List” will feel crazy overwhelming because it will, and should be, never-ending.

In the best of all possible worlds you will still have a to-do list on the day you die. Having the list is a sign that you’ve stayed engaged in your life all the way to the end. In other words, having a list is a GOOD thing.

“The only thing more important than your to-do list is your to-be list. The only thing more important than your to-be list is to be.”   – Alan Cohen

The types of tasks on the list may evolve over time, but having a “Master List” is every bit as important as having a calendar to remind you of when to show up for the dentist or that lunch date with your friend.

 

2. What is your “Today List”?

If your “Master List” is where all your actions live until you choose to complete them, then your “Today List” is the SHORT selection of the items that are your priority for today. This list should have no more than four items on it.

Just four tasks? (And I do mean tasks, not projects. Actions that you can complete in 5-30 minutes.) This might sound like horrifying levels of under-achievement. But, things are going to come up. That call from your client, that urgent email response, the last minute errand for your kid’s homework. New tasks show up in our lives constantly each day.

When we choose our four priority tasks intentionally each day, then we can both keep ourselves focused and leave space for the urgent things to arise without knocking us off course or making us feel overwhelmed.

What I teach my clients is that your four daily tasks include: your “Inspired Action” and 3 bonuses. Your “Inspired Action” is a commitment that you’re making to yourself. This one item, come hell or high water, will get done before the end of the day. Once that’s accomplished, then the other three items are your next top priorities.

If you get through all four tasks on any given day, then celebrate! Seriously… 3 minute dance party, at least. When you’re done celebrating, then you can decide if you want to go back to your “Master List” and choose another task to power through. Or, you can leave space for inspiration, flow, or other activities as they arise. You’ll likely choose what works based on your energy and schedule for the day.

“Make each day your masterpiece”  – John Wooden

When you stop confusing your “Master List” for your “Today List”, then you increase your ability to focus and decrease your persistent sense of overwhelm. It’s one of the simplest, and fastest tricks to immediately improve your effectiveness each day.

Have you been confusing your “Master List” and “Today List?” Please share with us in the comment section below!

Erin Wells is The Intentionality Expert, Productivity Strategist and founder of Chosen Course. Erin helps high achievers, entrepreneurs, corporate leaders, and influencers to improve their productivity, focus, and effectiveness in their work and daily life. Erin is the author of Inspired Action: Create More Purpose, Productivity, & Peace in Your Life. You can Download your FREE Start Your Master List eGuide to learn more about To-Do’s Done Right.

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10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. vicky

    Jul 17, 2016 at 5:48 pm

    Erin your article is so nice…but what is the most important thing for continuing to make a “master list” daily? I try it many times but never continue it for long.

    • Erin Elizabeth Wells

      Aug 29, 2016 at 4:37 pm

      Hi Vicky,
      It’s a habit that’s rather like getting use to writing all your appointment info in your calendar every day. It takes practice. But, more than anything you have to create a relationship with the tool you’re using to hold your master list that allows the habit to become as easy as possible.

      If you’re just writing it on a random sheet of paper, then you aren’t creating a consistent relationship with a specific tool. That’s why I would encourage you to choose a specific notebook or a well-designed project management app to hold this information for you. Just like you would buy a good day planner for your calendar or choose calendar software that’s a good fit for you. There needs to be one place where this information lives in your world, and you have to develop the consistent habits of capturing new tasks onto it and reviewing it each day to decide your priorities for your Today list.

      For more about getting this system up and running for you, I would definitely pick up the free Start Your Master List eGuide that I created to walk you through the initial system setup and offer some tool recommendations. You can grab it here: http://www.chosencourse.com/12Stop.

      Good luck!

  2. Stefanie

    Jul 14, 2016 at 5:39 am

    Hi Erin, I love the idea about having one mission and 3 bonuses! Just a slight change of words, but it shows clearly that one has more impact than the other.
    I have been using Trello for my weekly goals, which I plan together with my husband every Sunday. Each of us has 3 goals each day which we mark with labels, so we know who of us will accomplish this goal. This is really helpful as we can interact on the goals and track the progress.
    I noticed that sometimes, we have tasks which are too huge. I’m going to take into account what you wrote about actions (5-30 min.). This is really helpful to not feel overwhelmed. Thank you!

    • Erin Elizabeth Wells

      Aug 29, 2016 at 4:31 pm

      Hey Stefanie,
      Glad it helped! It’s amazing how just a minor change in words can actually make a big difference in how you feel every day :).

      Keep going and knock it out of the park!

  3. Shawn Lim

    Jul 11, 2016 at 3:49 am

    Can’t agree more. I used to have a long to-do list, but I never get all of the tasks done.
    Like what you mentioned through your ‘masterlist’.
    I have then learned to prioritize and work on those that will yield the most result.
    Usually only a few important tasks. 🙂

    • Erin Elizabeth Wells

      Jul 11, 2016 at 6:09 pm

      Thanks Shawn. Yeah, it’s a common confusion and frustration for folks. This distinction can make a huge difference to your emotional attitude, which by extension improves your overall productivity.
      After all, it’s a lot easier to stay productive when you feel focused and energetic… rather than frustrated and depressed ;).

  4. Chris

    Jul 9, 2016 at 9:57 am

    Great article thanks, I tend to break my 5 year goals into annual goals, into monthly, into weekly then into daily tasks, as not to confuse the daily tasks with my “Master List”

    When do you set your tasks, the night before or in the morning?

    • Erin Elizabeth Wells

      Jul 11, 2016 at 6:06 pm

      Hi Chris,
      Honestly, morning or evening… it’s your choice. But, I do encourage you to choose a consistent time.
      Many of my clients like to choose their 4 tasks at the end of the work day for the following day. Personally, I’m a fan of first thing in the morning when I have a better sense of my personal energy level and what I’m feeling inspired about.
      My task management system (www.Asana.com) also sometimes pops some items to the top at the beginning of the day that I hadn’t thought about previously, so I weigh those against items that I might have previously considered priorities.

  5. Tim Denning

    Jul 9, 2016 at 3:51 am

    Erin thank you for this simple distinction between a “master list” and a “today” list. The two lists have definitely been confused for me on many occasions.

    • Erin Elizabeth Wells

      Jul 11, 2016 at 6:10 pm

      You’re welcome, Tim.
      Glad this distinction was helpful to you! It can really improve your attitude and enjoyment of each day :).
      Warmly,
      Erin

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Success Advice

Success Isn’t Rocket Science, but There Is a Simple Equation

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People all around the world are looking for the secret to success. There are countless answers out there: personal connections, wealth, good luck, positive mindset, hard work, determination, passion, and on and on.

Some of those things might be true for some people, but I don’t think success comes from just any one variable. I also don’t think there is a single tangible answer that can be replicated by the masses. It seems that the more we look for one, the more questions we tend to find.

What is the secret to success? Is it enough to be passionate and hardworking? Is it enough to have a positive mindset? What steps can we take to become more successful?

Well, if you have been pondering questions like these, look no further. I believe success comes from, not one variable, but a combination of variables, an equation if you will. I’m not talking about anything too complicated or complex, like rocket science. This is an equation so simple it practically solves itself:

(Intrinsic Motivation + Action) x Momentum = Success

“I’m not a math whiz! What does this mean?” Don’t worry, as my high school algebra teacher could attest, this isn’t real math, but I can assure you that it works very well. Allow me to explain each variable.

Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation is your internal, innate reason for wanting to do something and it’s the vital first part of the formula for success. Without it, everything we try to do will most likely fail, but what is intrinsic motivation?

Let me ask you a question: what do you like to do in your free time? Do you volunteer because it feeds your soul to help others? Maybe you love doing puzzles because you love the feeling you get when you solve a problem? Do you go hiking because you love to connect with nature?

If no one were paying you, would you still volunteer, solve puzzles, or go hiking? Of course you would! You receive intrinsic rewards when you do those things, and therefore you have a strong, internal motivation to keep doing them.

Another way to look at this is to know your “why.” Your “why” is your deep-rooted reason for doing something. Simon Sinek talks about this a lot, and Tony Robbins says, “If you have a strong enough ‘why,’ you can do anything.” It’s a great concept, but there is another side to this coin.

Having a weak “why,” or no “why” at all, means that you have no intrinsic motivation to speak of. You’re practically a rocket ship with no rocket fuel. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen a rocket get too far without fuel.

To achieve success in any endeavor, you must start with your intrinsic motivation – you must start with why. Why do you want to achieve success in your life?

“Challenges are gifts that force us to search for a new center of gravity. Don’t fight them, just find a new way to stand.” – Oprah Winfrey

Action

Now that you know what motivates you and you have a strong “why,” you have to take action towards your dreams. Action is the second part of the formula for success because, without action, we wouldn’t get anywhere in life. We might have fuel in our tanks, but we still have to hit the launch button.

I see a lot of people who spend time learning, planning, learning some more, trying desperately to perfect their strategy before they start. But the reality is, you are going to discover the most valuable lessons along the way.

It is impossible to plan for every situation, so trying to do so only delays your success. Author Karen Lamb says, “A Year from Now You May Wish You Had Started Today” and that’s true. “Someday” is a common code for “never.”

Sure, jumping in without having everything figured out will cause you to run into the occasional obstacle or setback, but again, you can’t plan for every obstacle. If you have a strong enough “why,” you’ll overcome obstacles and press on.

So, whether you’re ready or not, you need to take action towards your goals to achieve success. The only way to achieve success is to start taking action and build momentum. What one thing can you do today to take action towards your goals?

Momentum

In my opinion, momentum is the most critical aspect in the formula for success and here’s why: Starting isn’t worth much if you keep quitting. Remember that rocket ship analogy from before? If not having a “why” is like not having any fuel, then starting and stopping is like using up all of your fuel only to land again immediately.

Building momentum, however, is like breaking free of the atmosphere and reaching space. Once there, the zero gravity keeps the rocket afloat, and the pilot only uses relatively small amounts of fuel to propel and steer the rocket through space.

I read an article from The Huffington Post and it said, “In 1967, Apollo mission to the moon, the Saturn V rocket’s needed over 500,000 gallons of fuel just to break free of the Earth’s atmosphere. The final stage of the trip only required 86,059 gallons of fuel. That means it took nearly 5.8 times as much effort to launch as it did to keep the momentum.”

So, the next time you think about quitting, remember how much energy and effort it took to get started in the beginning. Do you want to go through that again? Do you really want to waste that much energy when you could keep going?

Don’t quit! Instead, keep taking action towards your goals, day after day, month after month, and year after year. Doing this will help you create radical momentum in your life and in your goals.

“Momentum solves 80% of your problems.” – John C. Maxwell

So there you have it, the formula for success. It doesn’t matter what you’re trying to do – land on the moon, lose weight, start a business, run a marathon, save a million dollars – you have to know why you want to achieve success. You have to have fuel in the tank.

Once you know what’s propelling you forward, you have to take action every day and never quit. This will allow you to build an unstoppable momentum that will carry you to the success you seek.

It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. Success takes time. There are no shortcuts. There are no quick fixes. There are no overnight successes. To be successful, you have to intrinsic motivation for the long haul, and no matter what, you cannot quit taking action.

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Success Advice

The Power of Personal Reviews: How It Can Skyrocket Your Success in Life

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Do you want to elevate your personal success? If so, do you know what the number one thing that’s keeping you away from that success? You could be doing everything right in terms of setting goals and going after them, and still not make progress if you’re not doing this.

The secret is personal reviews. As goal-getters, we’re conditioned to take action and work hard to make our goals happen. But if you’re not measuring the effectiveness of your actions, then the outcome may be no better than if you were running around in circles. In order to not be stuck in the same place, you have to be continuously adjusting your strategy.

The key is knowing exactly what to do differently in order to achieve your goals and accelerate your success. This is where personal reviews come in, because they answer the most important questions such as: What parts should you keep on doing? What parts should you do differently? What exactly happened last time that prevented you from reaching your goals? How can you get to your goals even faster the next time?. The victory path often isn’t linear, and reflecting on it will improve the process, which is the most important part for speeding up success.

According to Harvard Business Review, people were shown to be more productive and less burnout after thinking about and planning their day than those who didn’t. Studies cited in the same Harvard Business Review have also shown that employees in call centers who spent 15 minutes at the end of the day reflecting on the lessons learned performed 23% better after 10 days than those who did not reflect. If you work in an even more complex role, imagine the benefits you would gain from consistent reflections. Ready to take on your own review?

Here are the three parts of a personal review and how each part will help you achieve personal and professional success:

1. Get Clear On Where You Are to Make Better Decisions

It’s hard to get to your destination if you don’t know where you are right now. Luckily, personal reviews are similar to a GPS, where it can accurately pinpoint your place in life. By getting clear on your current situation, there are three main benefits that’ll contribute to your success.

One, it reaffirms your goals. As I often find working with clients doing their own personal sprints to success projects, goals can be easily forgotten without regular check-ins. Each personal review helps bring these goals to top of mind, and align all your actions so that each one will move the needle.

Two, it keeps you on track. Once you are clear on your goals, it’ll become much more obvious whether you are on your way to hit your target or if you have strayed off the path. This will help you focus more clearly, and save time from unnecessary distractions and course-corrections.

Three, it builds momentum. By regularly reviewing how things are going, you can celebrate the wins, and improve on areas that didn’t go well. After all, success comes from consistent action and making progress towards your goals.

“What you can measure, you can improve.”  – Peter Drucker

2. Discover the Roadblocks That Are Holding You Back

Now that you have a solid understanding of where you are at, it’s time to get down to the why. Why are you where you are currently, and how can you go even faster? The second part of personal reviews is where you’ll discover the golden nuggets of insights that you can use as your secret weapon.

Maybe you realized that you usually only get one or two important things done each day. Why is that? Is it because there are too many distractions? Or is it because your energy levels are low? And is there a filter you can set up to differentiate between what’s important and what’s not?

These are all incredible insights into the decision-making process and the factors that contribute to your success. If you stumbled, think about what parts you wouldn’t do again next time. If you achieved your goals, think about which parts you can repeat to succeed again. And as you collect more data points, the easier it’ll be to pinpoint how to 10x your productivity and results. And the more frequent you do reviews, the faster you’ll be able to progress. For example, if you conduct weekly reviews, you’ll be able to move four times as fast as someone who does monthly ones. Now, you can work smarter, instead of harder.

3. Fast Track Your Success Through Feedback Planning

Once you have the clear understanding of exactly where you are and what you need to do differently, you can use this feedback to make powerful changes to your plan. This is the last part of personal reviews – setting and prioritizing goals to accomplish by the next review.

These new goals will not be something that you’ve haphazardly put together, but rather it will be a combination of your insights and your vision of success. These reviews can be massively effective productivity tools and accountability structures that you can use to review the past and set in place the steps to take for the future.

For high potential professionals who do not conduct weekly reviews, one of the top reasons is that they either don’t understand the process, or can’t see the benefits. Now that you know how it works and the huge impact it can have, I invite you to take charge of your life, and face your goals and fears head-on.

“Every minute you spend in planning saves 10 minutes in execution; this gives you a 1,000 percent return on energy.” – Brian Tracy

After all, in order to stay a high performer and relevant, you must grow. And whether you want to become more focused, motivated or productive, personal reviews will carve out the path for you to get there and skyrocket your success.

How do you envision yourself accelerating through personal reviews? Leave a comment below!

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Success Advice

5 Surprising Ways Your Posture Impacts Your Success

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What makes some people successful while others flop, even with the same education, background, and job position? There is no one size fits all formula, but one thing that always stands out is a person’s posture and body language. The way in which you sit, stand, and even walk, tells people so much about you, and you don’t have to utter a word.

I’m a big movie buff, so if I reference a few scenes, you will understand why. Your posture not only tells people about you, but it can make you feel more powerful and confident in your own abilities. Wouldn’t you like to know what your posture is saying to others and how you can change it?

Here are 5 ways your posture impacts your success:

1. Posture is a Nonverbal Sign of Who You Are

Remember in Titanic, when Jack is waiting to have dinner with Rose. When he’s leaning against the staircase, what does his posture say to you? Gangster? Thief? Then Jack sees the distinguished (banker?) walk by. He’s impressed with his posture and manner of walking, which he tries to emulate.

This is a perfect example of the image you are projecting to others. What do you want your image to say to others? When you are in a business setting, you should always be aware of your posture, so you don’t end up leaning on the staircase like Jack.

2. Good Posture Empowers You

Your posture and other body language makes you feel more powerful and boosts confidence.  A study from Ohio State University found that those who sat up straight had more confidence in their own abilities and believed more strongly in positive statements they had written about themselves.

“A strong confident person can rule the room with knowledge, personal style, attitude and great posture.” – Cindy Ann Peterson

3. Your Posture is Vital to Your Health

Anyone who has spent time sitting in front of a computer screen will tell you that it can wreak havoc on your neck, back and shoulders. It’s true that our bodies were not designed to sit for the majority of the day, but when you add poor posture to the mix, you are asking for some serious pain.

You can only imagine what people will think if you take time off work because of back pain or neck pain. Of course, the alternative is to spend your time rubbing your neck, which won’t do much for your image or authority presence. Avoid these issues by practicing good posture!

4. Good Posture Helps You Perform Better

When your body is out of balance, that is to say, when you are hunched over that keyboard or your head is pushed forward when you are standing or walking, you can’t perform to your true potential. This is especially true if you end up with neck or back aches later on in your day because you are slouching. When you feel good, you look good, and you can perform like a champion!

5. Your Posture Affects How People See You

This should be fairly obvious to everyone. Have you ever seen a CEO slumped over their computer? Think of the movie Shawshank Redemption, when escaped prisoner Andy Dufresne sits in front of the bank executive to cash out his account. His posture screams confidence and authority in that scene. Imagine if he had been a quiet mouse, staring at his feet, with slumped over posture. Your posture can make a huge difference in how you are perceived.

“I listen better with earplugs in, so I can see what your body is really saying.” – Jarod Kintz

The Good Posture Problem

Whenever I counsel new employees, I always stress good posture and how important it is to every area of their lives. I see them sit up straight, pull back their shoulders, and sit back in their chair, only to find them slouched over their keyboard or phone a few minutes later.

Let’s face it, keeping good posture after years of neglect can seem like a lot of work and you’re right, it is. However, it only seems that way because we are unaccustomed to how it feels. We are also creatures of habit and slouching at your desk is probably a bad habit you learned many years ago. Habits were meant to be broken, friends, and it’s not as hard as you might think.

Tips for Practicing Good Posture

If you want to come across as Meryl Streep does in every scene where she is walking in The Devil Wears Prada (minus the arrogant attitude, of course), you should think about your posture every day.

You can try setting an alarm on a daily basis to check your posture at work or at home. Try to be mindful of the way you’re sitting, standing and sleeping, and avoid any unnatural positions. Ask friends and family to remind you to stop slouching, too!

Also, check your workstation and make sure nothing is triggering bad posture there. Is your computer screen at eye level? Is your chair comfortable? Make sure your office equipment isn’t negatively affecting your posture.

Finally, some people have great success with a yoga or Tai Chi class, which focus on building strength and flexibility in your postural muscles. If you’re interested, you might sign up to maximize your posture. Otherwise, you can also try a home morning posture routine with different stretches.

In the end, you have the power to change your posture! As your mother might say: sit up straight!

How do you practice having proper posture throughout your day? Share your thoughts below!

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Success Advice

If You Must Work, Work For A Leader You Love

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Let me lay this out nice and simple for you all: it’s not companies, or products, or services that make us go to work.

It’s people. To be more specific, it’s the leader you work for.

I came to this realization when I looked back on my own career. I looked at why I stayed in certain jobs for too long. I looked at why I gave a damn about finance when in my head I hated it.

The answer came to me late one night as I was trying to think about how to get myself out of this crappy career situation I’d found myself in where I literally didn’t give a stuff about business anymore.

Then it hit me: I’m following a leader I love.


It’s not the company.

The company doesn’t make you love your work, sorry.

No video on company culture or fancy office with stand up desks and indoor plants is going to change that. A company is a legal entity which revolves around a group of people who all work together towards a common goal that makes money.

None of us will be inspired by this incredibly dry thing called ‘a company’

A company is a figment of our imagination. Some people in the company rock. Some people in the company suck.

And that applies to all companies including Google, DropBox and any other company you think is sexy because of its uber cool culture and work from home days.


Working for a leader you love.

Why the hell would you bother?

It’s because it’s in our human nature to be led by someone who touches the deepest, darkest places that we don’t want to go to but must in order to survive.

Those dark places look like:

  • Leading a team of people
  • Doing public speaking
  • Admitting you’re wrong in a major argument
  • Quitting your career because it’s wrong
  • And even breaking up with a lover

These are the things a leader made me do. I didn’t want to do any of it although I had to.

This made me want to come to work every day and work for this leader because in the work I was doing, I was discovering myself and finding a way to grow into the person I’d avoided becoming for so long.

No one wants to face the darkness, but when a leader guides you, you’ll find a way and be forever grateful that you did.


From one company to the next.

You see many people go from one company to the next. They’re not chasing the idea of a company or trying to find a better company.

We go from one company to the next because in most cases we’re chasing a leader

Finding that leader you love working for is not easy. You’ll have to work for many useless leaders before you find a couple that are worth dedicating your entire career to.

The process of finding a leader you love working for is so difficult that once your search ends and you find those rare individuals, your standards will be forever raised and anything less will piss you off.

In my own career, I’ve met 1–2 amazing leaders and every other leader that is not them ends up making me want to move on.


Not finding a leader I love.

I end up moving on because the leaders I don’t love working for focus on the following: numbers, email signatures, the share price, managing people into the ground in favor of ‘productivity’ and overcomplicating business.

That last one is the most important. Business revolves around understanding how people think, what motivates them and how to get them to take ownership.

To put the people part to one side is to completely Mess up the most simplest idea that has ever existed in the business world”

The process goes like this:

  • Hire one good leader
  • Support that leader
  • Allow them to hire incredible human beings
  • Stay the heck out of their way

Hiring the right leader and then letting them hire people who love working for them is the number one consistent approach I’ve seen from looking at many of the unicorn tech companies that have gone on to define the future of the human race.

It’s this counter-intuitive, somewhat magical approach that makes us stay working for a leader we love. Until, of course, we may not need to work or decide to go off and start our own thing.


The leader makes it all worth it.

So from this day forth, I’m committed to only working for a leader I love. If you mess that part up, you’ll probably find me saying goodbye.

I’d encourage you to think the same way.

The leader you work for makes it all worth it. It’s knowing someone has your back, someone cares and someone is simultaneously going to push you to the next level whether you like it or not that will not only define your career but your life.

Don’t. Settle. Ever.

Find a leader you love working for.

<<<>>>

If you want to increase your productivity and learn some more valuable life hacks, then join my private mailing list on timdenning.net

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