Ref 0001 Excel Shortcuts: How to Customize Mac Keyboard Shortcuts for Microsoft Excel

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Step-by-Step Guide: Customize Mac Keyboard Shortcuts

  1. Go to System Preferences.
    • Shir Tip: Use Spotlight Search to open System Preferences.
      • Press COMMAND + SPACE to open “Spotlight Search.”
      • Type “sys” and it will most likely autofill “System Preferences”.
      • Press RETURN.
  2. Click on the “Keyboard” icon.
  3. Click on the “Shortcuts” tab on the top of the window.
  4. Click on “App Shortcuts” on the left panel.
  5. Click on the “+” (plus) button to add a new shortcut.
    • Choose “Microsoft Excel” from the “Application” dropdown list. NOTE: If Microsoft Excel does NOT appear in the list, you might need to select “Other” at the bottom and find it in your Applications folder.
    • Type in the exact name of the menu command you want to add. For example, if you want to create a shortcut to zoom, you must type in “Zoom…” with the 3 dots, since that is how it appears under the “View” menu in Excel.
    • Click in the “Keyboard Shortcut” text box, and then actually type the shortcut (it will fill in the correct symbols for the keys you are using. For example: ⌃⇧Q for CTRL + SHIFT + Q).
    • Click the “Add” button.
  6. Test the shortcut you just created to make sure it is working the way you want it to.
  7. Eat a plum, cause you are done! 🙂


Full Video Transcript:

Here are step-by-step instructions how to customize keyboard shortcuts on the Mac from Microsoft Excel.

Step 1 is go to your System Preferences. Once you’re here, go ahead and go to the Keyboard section.

Then you’re going to go on to the Shortcuts tab on top. Once you’re there, you’ll get a whole bunch of choices here on the left. Choose App Shortcuts, and then find Microsoft Excel Mac 2016.

If it’s not there, you’ll have to go ahead and hit a + and find the application in a list, and then actually make sure, this is where it gets tricky, type in the exact name of the menu command you want to add. Under File, under Edit, under essentially any of those top menu items, type it out exactly as it appears, even if there’s a “…”, that’s how you have to have it.

Once you do, you’ll actually use the shortcut, and it will generate the symbols for you. So that is how you can actually create the shortcut and have it save for you this way.

One last word of advice. Test out the shortcut you just made to make sure that it actually works before moving on. One cool tip to get to the System Preferences faster is to hit COMMAND + SPACE to get the Spotlight search where you can type in System Preferences, or even just “Sys”. Hit Enter, and it brings you to this Home section of the System Preferences.

That’s how you create custom shortcuts for Excel on your Mac.

0001 Excel Shortcuts: How to Open and Close Spreadsheets

If you’re like most people, you are starting your day off with this inefficient step. It doesn’t have to be this way! In this video, I will show you how to open and close spreadsheets using Excel shortcuts for both PC and Mac. Save time every single day, so you can get back to your life!

Download FREE Hands-On Exercises

Full Video Transcript:

If you’re watching this video, then odds are that you’re doing this one thing at least once every single day inefficiently. Today I’m going to show you how to open and close spreadsheets quickly.

The beauty of these shortcuts is that they’re all very simple and very straightforward. So when you want to actually create a new Excel file, all you really need to do is hit CTRL+N with the keyboard. N stands for new, doesn’t get easier than that. Same concept with CTRL+O for open, CTRL+S for save. Gets a little different with CTRL+W, think of it as closing the workbook or closing the window, which is actually different than quitting the whole application. I’ll show you in a second. So that is what you use ALT+F4 to quit the application, right. So if I hit CTRL+W, it closes that workbook or that window, but if I hit Alt+F4 on the PC, it quits the entire program. That’s the difference.

So what I want you to do is pay attention to that little nuance. And for the Mac, it’s actually going to be COMMAND+Q to quit, which is even more straightforward.

The memory trick here for the PC is think of it as at the altar, the Fantastic Four, those superheroes that we all love, are getting married and the priest is really fed up and says, “I quit.” So at the altar, the Fantastic Four getting married and priest says, “I quit,” that means ALT+F4 is to quit the application. And that’s it.

So for this exercise I want you to actually go ahead and create 5 new workbooks, save them all with silly names like 1 through 5, close them all, open them back up. And again, use only the keyboard shortcuts.

Don’t forget to visit where you can download these exercises along with other free resources such as keyboard shortcut cheat sheets for both PC and Mac. Thanks for watching and I’ll see you next time. And in the meantime, don’t forget to share the Excel love.

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

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

And now, the conclusion…

4. Medium Focus Time (4MFT)

What is 4MFT?

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

Where does 4MFT usually take place?

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

When does 4MFT typically occur?

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

Which activities are good examples for 4MFT?

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

5. High Focus Time (5HFT)

What is 5HFT?

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

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

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

Where does 5HFT usually take place?

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

When does 5HFT typically occur?

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

Which activities are good examples for 5HFT?

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do I do that exactly?

It involves 2 completely separate processes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Such a rookie mistake!

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

Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.

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

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

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

Pro Tip: Go easy on yourself

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

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

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

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

Have I tickled your curiosity?

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

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

Final words of wisdom

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

That’s okay!

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

In other words…

“be like the tuna, not the salmon”

Thanks Jerry Seinfeld!

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

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

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

Time is our most valuable resource.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not All Time is Created Equal

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

Not all time is created equal.

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

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


Let’s do this!

1. No Extra Time (1NET)

What is 1NET?

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

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

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

Where does 1NET usually take place?

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

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

When does 1NET typically occur?

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

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

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

Which activities are good examples for 1NET?

2. Morning Coffee Time (2MCT)

What is 2MCT?

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

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

Where does 2MCT usually take place?

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

When does 2MCT typically occur?

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

So 😛

Which activities are good examples for 2MCT?

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

3. Low Focus Time (3LFT)

What is 3LFT?

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

Where does 3LFT usually take place?

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

When does 3LFT typically occur?

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

Which activities are good examples for 3LFT?

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

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

And yes, I am saving the best for last.

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

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

What moment will you seize today?

NYC Subway + Tunnel Vision = Flow

For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi describes flow as “…a single-minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate experience in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning.” Thanks Wikipedia!

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming…

I know it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: New York City is awesome!

Where else do you have access to any cuisine, anytime, anywhere? There are so many different people from all over the world, in such a small geographic area. Want to take a cooking class? Pottery class? Join a Flash Mob? You name it, NYC’s got it!

And how does the city that never sleeps get people from point A to point B? Public transportation, a.k.a. the subway.

I was 12 years old the first time I rode the subway by myself. To put that in context for all you non-native New Yorkers, it was the emotional equivalent of getting my driver’s license.

One huge advantage of the subway, is since I’m not driving the train, I can get work done on the way. This goes back to Tony Robbin’s concept of No Extra Time or (N.E.T.) time, illustrated here with him answering emails while walking on a treadmill. I’m already riding the train anyway, so doing work would take zero extra time away from other things. And until we develop transporter technology, that’s not going to change anytime soon. By the way, any diehard Trekkie fans want to get on that? I’ll be the first on your waiting list!

It’s not all peaches and cream though. Here are some potential drawbacks of working on the subway:

  • No Internet access. This is not actually a problem, since there is always plenty of work that doesn’t require being “plugged in.” Anyone else feel like Neo from The Matrix sometimes? This mostly takes the form of writing (like this blog post!) and brainstorming (like the Mindstorm that generated the idea for this blog post!).
  • Major service changes that affect my usual route. This doesn’t usually happen, but if it does I need to actually pay attention to announcements which invariably distract me from my work. Sad face.
  • Very crowded trains. Fortunately, I rarely travel during rush hour. I make a point not to go anywhere before 2 pm unless absolutely necessary. If I’m downtown, I also make a point to stay out later until the evening rush hour ends at about 7 or 8.
  • The massively annoying and infamously un-entertaining “showtime” guys. I’m not sure who started it, but there are at least a dozen separate groups performing the same exact “show” these days. For those of you who don’t know, they blast loud hip hop music with a very strong bass, clap louder than your audiologist would recommend, and dance in the moving subway car. At least once during the performance they have a signature move of jumping onto the poles and twirling their way down. The only people who are impressed are out-of-towners. Clearly, these showtime guys are majorly disruptive. Fortunately I’ve managed to pinpoint which subway cars to avoid at specific times during the day. For example, they seem to be on a weekday loop during the day, getting on the 2nd or 3rd car from the front on the A train at 125th street. Why 125th? Because it’s the longest time between the next stop of 59th street and allows for maximum disturbance potential. I really want people to stop giving them money so they would learn that it is not a profitable way to spend their time. The fact that they continue to do it leads me to believe otherwise though. Wow, that was quite a rant. I must have been more upset about it than I realized!

Since I always like to end on a more positive note, here are some of the benefits of working on the subway:

  • Increased focus. I am able to concentrate remarkably well, with the help of in-ear headphones and the playing of music without lyrics. I make sure never to have it on so loud that I’m oblivious to my surroundings, but it’s enough to make everything else fade to background noise.
  • Movement & people. Sitting at home all day makes me feel physically restless and socially isolated. Riding the subway requires some physical movement and also surrounds me with people. #winwin
  • Fewer choices = less time deciding what to do. I’m either reading, listening to an audiobook (something I usually reserve for long walks in the city), or most of the time I’m reading or brainstorming. This takes some of the mental burden off of not knowing what to work on. It’s Barry Schwartz’s concept of the Paradox of Choice, we have so many options that we feel overwhelmed and end up doing nothing. Sound familiar?
  • Less pressure due to limited timeframe. When I arrive at my destination, the work must stop. That takes the perceived burden off of my shoulders in spending an indefinite amount of time on a particular task. I like that. It has the same impact as the 5 minute timer when I Mindstorm.
  • Helpful distractions. It allows for the option of momentary distractions and people watching. Again, it’s background noise so it doesn’t actually interfere with my focus if I’m in the zone, experiencing flow. However, if I hit a small road block or dead end of some kind, I can pause for a moment. I look up and people watch, and somehow it seems to help me come up with new ideas. I must have done that at least 4 or 5 times while writing the first draft of this post.

One last thing to point out is that on the subway ride home at the end of the day, it’s no longer my prime time for cognitive work. That’s why I do most of my self-tracking during that time. Diet Log, CANI Log, Life Balance Log, 1 Second Everyday, and of course the Subway Schedule Log.

The cool thing is that everyone works differently. It took me a while to become intimately familiar with my ideal working habits. Where do you work best? In an office? At home? At a coffee shop? On the train? Discuss!

The Best 15 Minutes of My Day

On March 11th, 2013 I began the 21 Day Perfect Health Meditation Challenge hosted by Deepak Chopra and Oprah.

Why 21 days? Probably because popular belief dictates that it takes 21 days to form a habit. Apparently this idea originally came from anecdotal evidence in Maxwell Maltz’s self-help book Psycho Cybernetics. Personally I’ve found there to be a good amount of proof in that particular puddin’.

But before I go off on another food tangent… I should probably mention that up until that point in my life, I had never meditated before. Part of me always thought it was a little too woo woo, but I decided to put those feelings aside and give it a shot.

I’m really happy I did

There are many forms of meditation, but what I liked about this one was that it was guided every step of the way. A few words of wisdom in the beginning, and an introduction of the mantra for the day. Then some very soothing music, and a soft bell to indicate that it was time to stop. I felt as though Deepak was holding my hand through the entire process.

Interestingly enough, meditating actually reminded me of something I learned from Sid Efromovich in his happiness workshop. He talks about taking 10 minutes and simply sitting in silence. Not quite the same as meditation, but still very relaxing, and surprisingly helpful. He described it as a disk de-fragging for the mind.

*Geek-out warning!*

For those of you who don’t know, computers store information on spinning discs (a.k.a. hard drives). When new information gets stored it is recorded on different areas of that disc. Later, your computer’s mechanical arm has to move around in order to access it. The more scattered the information, the more inefficient and time consuming the retrieval process becomes.

That is why every so often, it is a good idea to de-frag your hard drive. In other words, taking related information that is currently fragmented in different parts of the disc, and placing them next to each other. Less movement = faster, more efficient data retrieval.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no neurologist…but I believe something similar (at least in concept) might be happening inside my brain. When I sit in silence for 10 minutes a day, it seems to take all the chaotic, disparate elements and organizes, sorts, and brings them closer together for faster, more efficient recall. It also ends up being a nice way to de-clutter my mind.

Pretty cool right?

Back to meditation

I noticed that when I spent those 15 minutes per day meditating, I had an easier time focusing, especially during my prime productive time when working on my Wildly Important Goals (a.k.a. WIGs).

By this point I had already formed a habit of working from about 12-2 pm, eating lunch from about 2-3, and then meditating before going back to work. It helped energize and focus me for that 2nd round of work, which was typically more challenging than the 1st.

A particularly moving meditation session

Duration the first 9 minutes or so of the session (on the topic of breathing), I had a very clear vision of myself in the future.

I was laying in bed, in my high-rise condo in NYC. The one with the fully stocked bar, dance floor, and recording studio that I’ve been dreaming about for years.

On this particular serene Sunday morning, I was next to my gorgeous wife, holding her snugly in my arms. Just as the sun began peaking through the curtains I drew a deep, soothing breath. The recently cleaned apartment left a hint of pine sol in the air, along with a natural freshness created by the assorted plants that I kept near the window sill.

The sun lightly touched her face, and with her eyes half open she gave me the warmest smile I’ve ever seen. In that moment I was overcome with joy and gratitude. I felt very much like Richard Dreyfus’s character in the last scene of Mr. Holland’s Opus, when he is surprised with a school-wide assembly to honor his lifetime of hard work as a music teacher.

After all, my vision was not just some random hallucination. I felt as though I was looking into the future, and that it would only be a matter of time until it would turn into the present. All my hard work, personal and professional growth, overcoming countless setbacks and challenges, would eventually pay off.

Other benefits of meditation

If that wasn’t already enough, here are some other things meditation has done for me:

  • Inspired 4-5 new daily affirmations.
  • Lowered overall level of stress during the day.
  • Improved productivity.
  • Improved quality of sleep (positive correlation of meditation and sleep cycle quality data…more on that in a future post).
  • Increased ability to focus on the present moment, and enjoy every part of it. Overall happiness definitely increased as a result.

This original meditation challenge has become a keystone habit for me (learn more about these habits that start a chain reaction in my post New Habits).

Since then I have already completed 3 other meditation challenges, and am going to finish my 4th today.

So what have you got to lose?

15 minutes of your day? As far as I’m concerned, those 15 minutes allow me to gain back time because I am more productive afterwards as a result.

Check out Deepak Chopra and his library of meditation resources. You’ll be happy you did!

How I Reach Inbox Zero in Under 5 Minutes Every Day

Now that you know that I do not check email from 12 pm – 9 pm every day, we can get to the specifics of how I actually process my email.

A few months ago I started using the Mailbox App for my iPhone and iPad. I’m such a big fan that it has actually replaced the prime real estate on my iPhone and iPad also known as the “dock.” Having said that, I must point out that there’s nothing actually revolutionary about it. It’s main benefit lies in the swiping gestures, which perform 1 of 4 actions:

  1. Swipe all the way to the right – delete message
  2. Swipe a little to the right – archive message
  3. Swipe a little to the left – reschedule message to appear in inbox at a later date & time (a feature I never use)
  4. Swipe all the way to the left – move message to a specific folder.

Speaking of folders… here are the exact folders I use:

  • Requires Action
  • To Watch
  • To Read
  • Udemy Sign Ups
  • Udemy Reviews
  • Unsubscribe

It took me a little while to realize that the “Archive” folder on the Mailbox app actually goes to the “All Mail” folder within gmail.

Before going any further, I should mention that at the time of this post the Mailbox app only works with gmail accounts. If you have a non-gmail account you can technically set up email forwarding from your non-gmail account to your gmail account, but as you might guess, that can get a little messy.

Why this is important

If you’ve done any sort of research on email hacking, you’d know that the goal here is to get to the promised land known as “Inbox Zero“. Merlin Mann (awesome name right?) the creator of coined the term back in 2007. In a nutshell, it involves taking all incoming emails and immediately doing something with them. That way we don’t have to look at everything when checking email, only the new messages. This significantly lightens the cognitive load on our otherwise overworked and under-appreciated brains. Sorry about that, brain.

Email processing across all my devices

When I check email on my MacBook Pro I use the built-in Mail application (currently running version 5.3). I also take advantage of the “Smart Mailboxes” feature. For those of you who don’t know, these are mailboxes that match any or all of the dynamic criteria which you set. Very similar to iTunes’ “Smart Playlist” feature.

Since there is no swipe functionality on my laptop, I created a few custom keyboard shortcuts to help with email processing. They are not all inclusive, but they do speed things up a bit. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • CMD + SHIFT + U: Mark selected message(s) as read/unread
  • CTRL + CMD + A: Archive selected message(s)
  • SHIFT + CMD + J: Move selected message(s) to junk folder
  • CTRL + CMD + (2-7): Move selected message(s) to Requires Action folder

The range of 2-7 here means that to move to the Requires action folder of my first email account, I use CTRL + CMD + 2, to my 2nd gmail account, I use CTRL + CMD + 3, and so on.

The only reason I have an Unsubscribe folder is because sometimes when I process mail on my device I don’t have time to click on the unsubscribe link in the email (or I’m in the subway and don’t have Internet access). I used to put these in the Requires Action folder, but that didn’t sit well with me. Much like the street food I ate last weekend. Damn you halal cart!

Not to toot my own horn but…

I’ve gotten so good at processing email, that I’m usually done in less than 2 minutes. Mind you, I only get a dozen or 2 new messages every time I check in the morning or evening. By the way, a big part of that is simply unsubscribing to all mailing lists or newsletters that I am no longer interested in (all of them except Ramit Sethi, Ash Ambirge, and a few other lucky ducks).

Then, I spend my time in the morning going through my Requires Action folder. These are the emails that usually require an intelligent and well thought out response. I originally thought I could do these at night, but quickly discovered that’s not such a good idea. Let’s not talk about that….

The verdict

Since my goal here was to spend less time with email, get more done, and at a higher quality, I’d say mission accomplished!

The best part? I sleep like a baby because I don’t have to worry about emails slipping through the cracks or the daunting task of manually organizing them all into folders. More on the results of my sleep hacking challenge in a later post. In the meantime check out Scott Britton’s sleep hacking course on Udemy.

Have some cool email hacks you’d like to share? I think I speak for everyone when I say “please share them in the comments!”

The Hidden Costs of Email Addiction and How I Finally Kicked the Habit

“Hi my name is Shir, and I’m an email-aholic.”

At least, that’s what I would have said 3 months ago.

Does any of this sound familiar?

  • Just got out of the subway? Let me check my phone.
  • Waiting in line at the grocery store? Maybe I’ve got a new message.
  • Walking down the street in the most exciting city in the world? I thought I felt a vibration, it must be a new email!

Let’s be honest for a moment (after which we can immediately return to our natural state of deception?), 85% of the emails we receive are either unimportant or completely useless.

I’m not even talking about spam. I’m talking about social media alerts, Groupon deals, newsletters we’re no longer interested in, replied-all email threads, and the list goes on. Yet, our default settings on our phone still behave in a “oh oh oh! Pay attention to me!” fashion.

Louis C. K. talked about the downside of smartphones during his appearance on Conan O’brien. Take a few minutes to watch it.

Have we really become so desperate to avoid feeling lonely that we’ll check our phones 100+ times per day?

Speaking from personal experience

I remember how strong the desire to check my phone was. After all, receiving email meant “someone is thinking of me!” right?

It got so bad that I felt like Pavlov’s dog whenever the email alert came in. Whether it was a *bing*, vibration, or email counter increasing in number, I immediately began salivating (metaphorically of course).

It wasn’t until a few months ago that I was talking about it with my friend Georges Janin, and I decided to make a serious change. Part of the impetus for it was the disappointment that came from checking my phone every 5 minutes, only to find that I still had “no new messages.” I felt more and more pathetic each time.

I knew that if I didn’t create some kind of system, my will power would cave in under the weight of temptation. And why waste all that energy anyway?

It was official! No email during the hours of 12 pm and 9 pm

Why 12-9 you ask?

Well, I already know that I’m most productive between the hours of about 12 pm – 2 pm and then again from about 3 pm – 5 pm. So, in order to optimize my day, I needed to make sure those times were off limits. Nighttime on the other hand was perfect because I could still check email even when tired.

Some of the benefits of this arrangement

  • Wake up in the morning to a batch of emails, which serves as a nice way for me to start the day.
  • Eliminates the biggest distraction during my most productive hours during the day.
  • Helps me achieve my Wildly Important Goals (a.k.a. WIGs) faster.
  • After a day of being productive, I get to reward myself at 9 pm with checking email, which have accumulated to a much larger number than they would have otherwise.
  • No more disappointment of checking my inbox to find “no new messages.”

I really look forward to 9 pm because I’ll have more emails accumulated to process at once. It’s a much better use of my time to batch email in this way. There are many people talking about the benefits of batching, but Tim Ferris was the first that really illustrated that point for me.

Here are 2 of his blog posts on the topic:

I know what you might be thinking

“But Shir, that’s crazy, I can’t have a 9 hour email blackout during the day!”

Pull yourself together and stop making excuses! (I yell because I care) You don’t need to do it as long as that. You can find 1 or 2 times during the day that make the most sense for you to check your mail. Right after lunch perhaps?

The exact steps to follow if you have an iPhone (before iOS 7)

  • Turn off sound alerts
    • Settings –> Sounds –> New Mail –> None
  • Turn off vibration alerts
    • Settings –> Sounds –> New Mail –> Vibration –> None
  • Remove counters from the app buttons
    • Settings –> Notifications –> Mail –> [Individual Email Account Name] –> Notification Center = Off, Alert Style = None, Badge App Icon = Off, New Mail Sound = None, Show Preview = Off, View in Lock Screen = Off.

By the way, I recommend going to the Notification center and turning off all Badge App Icons for all your apps.

The Key Takeaway

I always respond to emails that are actually important in less than 24 hours. Nothing truly important slips through the cracks. And in the meantime, I have gained so much freedom. I am no longer a slave to my inbox!

Your Turn

Don’t forget, you could start small with a 2 hour email blackout period. You don’t have to go for 9 hours at a time like I do. The cool thing is you can use it as a reward for yourself once you finish what you need to (For more on how to use rewards, check out my post: Don’t Underestimate the Power of Rewards). Either way, be sure to share your experience in the comments.

How I Stay Wildly Effective with Wildly Important Goals

I first came across Stephen Covey in an interview he had with marketing genius Jay Abraham. I immediately liked what I heard and decided to find other work by Stephen Covey. It didn’t take me long to discover his “7 Habits of Highly Effective People“. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? (<– amusingly rhetorical question)

In it, Stephen Covey talks about the concept of Wildly Important Goals, also known as WIGs. Essentially they refer to your goals that are so important that they rise above all the rest. The ones that must be achieved, or nothing else you achieve really matters.

To illustrate this point, allow me to reference Tim Ferris’s quote about the difference between being effective vs. efficient:

“Effectiveness is doing the things that get you closer to your goals. Efficiency is performing a given task (whether important or not) in the most economical manner possible. Being efficient without regard to effectiveness is the default mode of the universe.”

Turns out I’m a bit of an efficiency nut, and I used to fall into the trap of getting a lot of work done, only to realize at the end of the day that I didn’t even touch the big project that I needed to get to. Email was notorious for sucking me in to unimportant minutia. More on how I tamed the email beast in a later post.

Instead of being proactive, making a game plan for the day, and accomplishing our goals, the vast majority of us (my old self included) would assume a very reactive role. “Ah, an email just came in! I need to stop what I’m doing and answer it!” Do you though? Really?

So anyway, Stephen Covey hit the nail on the big ‘ol head with this. He talked about creating WIGs for the year, the quarter, the month, and then narrowing it down to that upcoming week. Part of the genius here is starting with the big picture.

Bassam Tarazi introduced it to me as the Big Hairy Audacious Goal. You know, the one that gives us butterflies, and we would uncork the champagne we’ve been saving for the past 3 years if we finally got it done.

Yeah, that one.

So start from the big picture, and then reverse engineer it to determine what actions I need to take this week in order to get there.

It’s funny, but I didn’t realize how long I had been doing this until I recently showed it to a friend.

Here is a look back to my first WIGs (10/19/11)

  • Goals for the YEAR
    • Earn $1 million in gross income by Jan 1st, 2013
    • Hire 2-5 employees for Shir Consulting
  • Goals for the QUARTER
    • Get first 3 paying clients for Shir Consulting
    • Earn $12,000 net per month by Jan 1st, 2012
  • Goals for the MONTH
    • Pitch Shir Consulting to at least 10 prospects
  • Goals for the WEEK
    • Create a preliminary portfolio of previous work
    • Create an ideal client profile
    • Brainstorm at least 5 completely different sources of new prospects
    • Create 2-3 versions of a sales pitch
    • Set up a system for Learning DAILY!
    • Surround yourself with mentors & like-minded

Sure, I didn’t quite reach my ambitious financial targets. And you know what, that’s OK.

Because this much I know for sure: I wouldn’t have made nearly as much progress had I not had these goals. After all, how can we ever reach our final destination if we have no idea where we are going?

How I stay on track with my WIGs

It should come as no surprise that I believe in the power of affirmations, and as a result I have recited my WIGs out loud daily since I began almost 2 years ago.

I usually say them at my desk right before I start working. It’s a nice way to set the tone for the rest of the day. I know where I’m going long term, and I know exactly how I’m going to get there by choosing to work on the most important things first.

I’ve had a lot of time to experiment with this, and I have found that when I accomplish my WIGs early in the day or early in the week, I am not only more productive, but I am also dramatically happier. I feel so far ahead of the game, that everything else I do after that is a pure bonus.

I also schedule a weekly time to change the WIGs, always leaving a historical record of what my WIGs were each week. Most times the long term goals stay the same from week to week, but occasionally I’ll come up with something new.

Tune in next week when I discuss the wildly enjoyable topic of WIG rewards, inspired by Tony Robbins.

Lastly, I leave you with my WIGs as of today

  • 10 YEAR – 12/31/22 (Age 36)
    • Net worth of $50 Million
    • Be in a committed relationship with someone who challenges & inspires me every single day, while keeping me on my toes
    • Enrich the quality of life for millions of people in the field of personal development
    • Travel the world to give talks and teach millions of people
    • Create a school to help people achieve excellence
  • 5 YEAR – 12/31/17 (Age 31)
    • Net worth of $20 Million
    • Own two condos in NYC (bar, dance floor, recording studio, breathtaking views)
    • Purchase homes for my mom, dad, and brother
    • Help millions of people become more productive with technology
    • Surround myself with a team of expert coaches in every area of life
  • 2 YEAR – 12/31/15 (Age 29)
    • Net worth of $500,000
    • Earn $45,000 net per month from Excel products
    • Reach 5,000 subscribers for ExcelShir blog
    • Reach 500 VIP Do-Gooders for Excel it Forward
  • YEAR – 12/31/14 (Age 28)
    • Net worth of $100,000
    • Earn $12,000 net per month from Excel products
    • Convert all former Skillshare classes into online classes
    • Reach 1,000 subscribers for ExcelShir Blog
    • Reach 100 VIP Do-Gooders for Excel it Forward
  • QUARTER – 12/31/13
    • Publish Excel Mastery Course parts 2 & 3
    • Set up Excel it Forward blog & measurement back end system
  • MONTH – 9/30/13
    • Edit and publish Excel Mastery Course Part 1 conclusion lectures
    • Submit [client name] Dashboard v01 no later than 9/25/13
  • WEEK – 9/14/13
    • Create flexible hand ranking system for Beyond Tells project
    • Create final notes & scripts for Excel Mastery Course Part 1 conclusion lectures
    • Spend 5 hours on [client name] dashboard project
    • Publish ExcelShir blog post

How about you? What are you going to achieve in 5 years? And how specifically are you going to get there?