DGS 130: Productivity While Working From Home with Thanh Pham

What can you do to be more productive, efficient, effective, and get stuff done while working from home during the COVID-19 crisis? No matter how much work you do or get done, there’s always more to do.

Today’s guest is Thanh Pham from Asian Efficiency, which has helped more than 15,000 clients worldwide. Also, Thanh hosts a growing and flourishing podcast called, The Productivity Show.

You’ll Learn…

[01:53] Asian Efficiency: Positive stereotype and memorable name for company.

[02:55] Thanh turns hobby of documenting productivity processes into a business.

[03:47] Groundhog Day: Businesses operating from home lose time and progress.

[05:06] Work/Life Balance: Nothing going on, no way to work, long days, and no variety.

[06:33] Planning: Take it to the next level via different dimensions, contingency options.

[07:23] Productive vs. Interruptive: Seek clarity to set one goal a day to accomplish.

[09:10] Sense of Momentum: What you want and why it matters should drive your life.

[12:15] Structure/Strategy: Create own schedule, design ideal day, and set cutoff time.

[14:57] Five Whys: Identify root cause and motivation. Money, freedom, flexibility?

[17:55] Energy vs. Time: Don’t do everything, do what you like and others do the rest.

[25:44] Ideal Day: Map it out the night before to start the next day right away.

[27:08] Do’s and Don’ts: Don’t eat at your desk; do step away from your office or home.

[32:05] What keeps you up at night? Entrepreneurs are known for worrying too much.

[34:40] Chinese Proverb: The palest ink is better than the best memory.

[35:41] Analog vs. Digital: What’s the difference? Depends on personal preference.



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Jason: Welcome, DoorGrow Hackers, to the DoorGrow Show. If you are a property management entrepreneur that wants to add doors, make a difference, increase revenue, help others, impact lives, and you are interested in growing your business and life, and you are open to doing things a bit differently, then you are a DoorGrow Hacker.

DoorGrow Hackers love the opportunities, daily variety, unique challenges, and freedom that property management brings. Many in real estate think you’re crazy for doing it, you think they’re crazy for not because you realize that property management is the ultimate high-trust gateway to real estate deals, relationships, and residual income.

At DoorGrow, we are on a mission to transform property management businesses and their owners. We want to transform the industry, eliminate the BS, build awareness, change perception, expand the market, and help the best property management entrepreneurs win. I’m your host, property management growth expert, Jason Hull, the founder and CEO of DoorGrow. Now, let’s get into the show.

I have a special guest with me today. Just down the street in Austin hanging out. This is Thanh Pham. What’s up, Thanh?

Thanh: Hey, Jason. Good to be here. Thanks for having me and I’m super excited to chat with you here today about productivity and anything that we can do to be more productive.

Jason: All right. Did I say your name right?

Thanh: Yeah, you did. First time, first attempt, 100% correct.

Jason: I thought I did, but I thought I would make sure. I’m really excited to have you. You have a great sense of humor. We’re chatting it up before the show and your company is called Asian Efficiency, right? Is this correct? Asian Efficiency?

Thanh: That is correct. That is a positive stereotype that we have going on here in most of America and the Western world so I thought, “You know what? That’s such a funny name. Such a name that sticks out and is memorable.”

So we started off as a joke in a way because I just want to document my journey of being more productive. I remember one time I was staying at a house in Miami with some friends, all fellow entrepreneurs. We went out for one night, then we had a few drinks. We had a great time, then the next morning I was being productive in getting stuff done; waking up really early. By the time it was noon, I was done with my day and everyone else was waking up really late. I said, “Oh my gosh, Thanh. You’re so productive. That’s some Asian efficiency right there,” and that’s when the name was born.

Jason: So this almost became a theme around you or a nickname attached to you before it was a business.

Thanh: Yeah. Honestly, it just started as a hobby. I just wanted to document how I did things as I was learning about productivity and how to be efficient, be effective, managing my time better, and I just started to blog about this back in the day in 2011. After a while, it just started to grow and took a life of its own after about six months. Then people kept asking me, “Thanh, this is so helpful. I’m learning so much. I would love to hire you. Do you have any courses or products?”

And I said, “Actually I don’t. But that’s a great idea.” I accidentally turned this into a business, and now, almost nine years later, we helped over 15,000 clients all over the world. We have a podcast that’s growing and flourishing, and just continuously impacting people, people that are listening here today as well.

Jason: Awesome. Our topic today is productivity while working from home, which a lot of people are doing right now. Due to the Coronavirus, COVID-19, a lot of people are on lockdown. A lot of people have been stuck at home. Businesses are operating, some are still operating, but they’re doing it from home, and a lot of people are joking right now. The big joke is it’s all one big day that’s been running forever.

Everybody feels like there’s no difference between one week to the next. The month has gone on for three months now. We’re kind of losing a sense of time, it seems to be the theme, and things just keep repeating so we lose a sense of because everything seems so similar each day and we’re lacking variety in our day to day, it feels like we’re not making any progress I think, maybe subconsciously as well.

What are you doing to stay out of that Groundhog’s Day sort of movie type of scenario in your own mind, cognitively?

Thanh: I think one of the interesting things that are happening now is some of those are working more than others and some of those are going the complete opposite route. We don’t have a job. There’s nothing going on and there’s no way for us to work. In either spectrum, it feels like days are so long as a result because as you said there’s no variety. It’s nice to be able to go to work and then come home relax and do nothing.

When we miss one or the other, it feels like we’re completely out of balance or some of us are just working all the time. If you’ve been working from home for a while, then you’re just working more now because there’s nothing else to do. You can’t leave your home. You can’t go anywhere so you just work more. For those who don’t have a job right now, or not working as much, or can’t work, you are stuck as well. You can’t do anything else but stay at home and relax and do relaxing activities.

Jason: And binge Netflix.

Thanh: And binge Netflix, yeah. I’ve watched so many shows. Money Heist was one of my favorite ones that I just finished. A great show, watch that one.

Jason: I just went through that too. My girlfriend and I were watching that one and it was good.

Thanh: Oh my gosh. Season Four, that really got me. But that’s a whole completely different podcast.

Jason: I wasn’t mad at the cliff hanger left at the ending though. My girlfriend was upset and I was like, “No, that makes me excited about the next season.”

Thanh: […], you just have to watch it whenever you have time.

Jason: I’m sure the character, the professor, you’ll get excited about. He’s got everything planned out. He’s incredibly efficient and he always finds a way to make things work. It seems like when nothing else seems like it’ll be possible, he finds some […]

Thanh: I thought I was a planner until I saw this character. Then this guy takes planning to a whole nother level because I thought planning a vacation was great, fun, and easy, then this guy takes planning of the robbery to five different dimensions, so you go whoa, this is crazy.

Jason: Right. He’s got all the contingency plans. He’s got names for all of them and something happens, he’s like, “No problem. We’re just going to bust out plan C,” and they just pop it out and everybody knows what to do.

Thanh: That’s a beautiful thing and when we’re working from home we can take the same approach. Whenever we’re working from home, one of the most important things is to plan our day. That’s such a simple thing that we can do, but most of us kind of skip that process. If you’re listening to this and you feel like most of your days are unstructured or you go about your day and you feel like, “Man, I wish I was more productive,” or, “I wish I had that one particular thing done.”

I know many of you who are listening probably find it very challenging to schedule stuff. You want to say, “You know what? I want to work on this particular task, or call this particular tenant or client at 11,” and then something comes up. A fire, someone calls you, you got an important email, you’re on call the whole time, you have an email client open, interruptions coming all the time, you feel like you’re on edge, and it makes it very difficult to focus. It makes it very difficult to concentrate and have focus blocks where you’re actually working and doing stuff.

When you’re in that kind of situation, one thing I’ve found is when you’re trying to work with people who have that interrupt-driven day, one of the best ways you can approach that is to set one goal a day. If you accomplish just one goal a day, no matter how big or small, you had a productive day because the rest of your day is typically driven by interruptions and things you have to deal with anyway. But if you can make progress on one goal, or one big outcome, or one big task, that’s a really productive day, so let’s aim for that.

Jason: That reminds me of Gary Keller’s The ONE Thing. He’s got his one thing question which is, “What’s the one thing that, by doing it, everything else will become irrelevant or easier?” That one thing question, so maybe that’s something the listeners can ask themselves. What’s that one thing that if I do this, it’s going to get me a sense of momentum today? It’s going to make me feel like I’ve done something. I’ve accomplished something. I moved the needle just slightly on my goals.

Thanh: I think a great reframe to add on top of that to help people because one of the things I see people struggle with is, “Jason, I have five million things I have to do and they all have to be done. How do I pick one thing to work on?” Oftentimes, we ask ourselves that question. It’s a sign that you don’t have any clarity about your goal or the destination you want to go towards.

So, when you don’t have that, everything feels equally important and whenever you get that sense when everything is equally important, that’s a sure sign that you don’t have clarity about what your goal is or what your destination is.

I want to challenge you as a listener to say, “Hey, what is the goal that I’m trying to accomplish?” Because once you know what that is, prioritizing or finding the one thing or the few things you have to do becomes so much easier.

As an example, if you’re publishing a book, that is your big goal for the year, then if you have a to-do list that says I need to redo my finances, organize my closet and write chapter two. One of those three sounds more appealing because it’s aligned to a goal which is just writing chapter two. That doesn’t mean redoing your finances and organizing the closet is not important, they are important, but they’re not, in relationship to the goal, important enough for you to prioritize over something else.

Once you have absolute clarity about the goal, this is what I’m trying to accomplish, you start to notice that certain tasks on your to-do list stand out because they will help you get you closer to your goal. That makes prioritizing them really easy and that makes it easy for you to say, “Okay, this is the one thing or maybe the two things I have to do today, and if I do that then I had a really productive day.”

Jason: I love that. I think some of the coaches I’ve worked with in the past, one of their big questions would always be to ask what do you want? What do you want? That first gut reaction deep down that we’re going to respond to that. What do you want in your business? What do you want I think is really important because it’s very easy I think for us to just end up becoming a slave to our business or doing things for other people.

I think a simple question of what do you want, then the follow-up question was always why does that matter? Because if it doesn’t matter, we’re not really going to do it. There has to be a why behind it especially if that’s work, if it’s painful, if it’s difficult. So what do you want and why does it matter. Really, that ultimately should be driving our business. It should be driving our life. All these things are vehicles to serve as. They’re all vehicles to make us happier, or more fulfilled, or give us a sense of momentum.

Let’s get into some specifics. People are listening and are like, “Thanh, I’ve got my one goal but how do I create this structure for my day that you’ve talked about? How do I do this?”

Thanh: If you’re working from home, one of the best things you can do is to create a schedule for yourself because after working from home since 2009, I’ve consulted so many clients over the years. There’s a lot of different strategies out there when it comes to being productive and trying to be efficient working from home, but the one strategy that I see that is most effective for most people is creating your own schedule.

You want to design your ideal day and one of the biggest things that you want to pay attention to is that again, one, you want to have one big goal for today especially for people who are listening to this who are interrupt-driven schedule, you want to create that. Then the second thing is you want to make sure that you have the cutoff time for when you stop working as well.

I know that’s going to sound crazy for a lot of property managers and you go, “Thanh, I can’t do that. I’m on call 24/7 and I need to be reachable whenever people contact me.” I totally get that, but if you want to have some sense of balance in your life or if you feel like you’re always on call, you’re tired of being that way, you want to then start creating some systematic solution around that so that if people do call you after a certain time, it’s still being handled.

When I’m working with a lot of owners and operators, their main fear is, “Man, if I stop working after six. I’m going to lose a lot of business. I’m going to get a lot of complaints.” Those are rightfully so in the beginning, I would say, but what if you could hire someone to be able to work even part-time to deal with stuff outside of your normal office hours? To be able to handle that request and things that people need so that you don’t have to do that.

You can pay someone else to be able to do the things that need to be done while you have time for yourself. As you’re growing your business and have specific boundaries for yourself, it makes it easier for you to have that work-life balance because most of us who are entrepreneurs and are working all the time, after a while we get so tired. One of the main reasons businesses stop existing or quit is because the owner is tired. They’re just like, I’m so done with—

Jason: They’re burned out.

Thanh: Yeah, they have this burnout. So we want to create boundaries. We want to create systems in place so that we don’t have to work all the time. When we do work, we can work on the things we have passion about or we’re really good about, that are in alignment with what you were talking about earlier which I love is the whole why thing. If you’ve never done that exercise, it’s called the five whys.

Basically you ask yourself why five times, you start to come down to the root cause, the root motivation for you why you started this business. Oftentimes it’s not because you wanted to make more money even though that was I’m sure a strong motivator for a lot of people. Oftentimes, it comes down to having your own freedom in your life. Having a flexible schedule. Having quality time with your family and friends.

Once you really connect with that, you start to realize I don’t have to work 18 hours a day. I can accomplish everything I need in six, or seven, or eight, and the rest of the time I can spend it with my family because that’s why I started my business. To be able to spend time with them, not necessarily work more until midnight fixing stuff or trying to attend to tenants, even though that is important. Someone else can do that as well and get paid for it. You employ someone and that’s a beautiful thing too.

Jason: I think ultimately when we boil anything down, it comes down to usually a feeling that we want to have. Somebody just says I really want a Tesla, or I want to drive. I want this car. When you really boil it down, people always want what we think we will feel when we have that.

How would it feel to have a business that runs itself or I had the freedom, the time? Ultimately, it boils down to some sort of feeling that we want to have. Then if you work it backward, once you figure it out, once you get to that bedrock why, then the question is can I have this why without that? Or is there a faster vehicle or a way to get to that in that?

If I just want to feel powerful, are there other things I can do to feel powerful besides what I was thinking about how to look this one certain way? One coaching or program that I went through, this phrase they always drove into us was, “It doesn’t have to look a certain way.” They recognize it. Everybody always gets so attached to things looking a certain way. We want a specific outcome and we want to get there in a specific way. It has to look this way. No, no, no. It has to be like this.

Sometimes we end up becoming control freaks and I’m sure sometimes productivity can become a control freakish mode for people to get into. They’re micromanaging every second. They’re doing too much. Planning everything out in so much detail that they kill all the life and spirit of their life, fun. Ultimately, that could lead the burnout, unless people really just thrive on that situation.

I’m a big fan of energy management over time management. Spending your time doing the things you really enjoy like you’re talking about and that’s going to help you avoid getting burnout because if I’m doing the things that I love, I can work crazy amounts of hours in a week because I love it. I’m not getting burned out on it. I’m far less likely to get tired. People aren’t going to annoy me or frustrate me in those situations because I feel alive. I feel like I’m doing something that brings me joy, life, and momentum.

I think ultimately everybody needs to find that in their business because I think the great secret that nobody talks about is that as a business owner, you don’t have to do all the stuff people say a business owner has to do. You can do whatever you want. If you want to be the receptionist in your company, you can be the receptionist. It’s your choice. It’s your company. If you want to do accounting and you love that, you can do the accounting. If you want to do customer service, you can do that being the business owner.

Let’s go to the cutoff time. I really like this idea. I like this idea because there are so many beliefs that prevent us from stopping and cutting it off. I had a job working for an internet service provider and I started managing their support department after being there for a short period of time, then I was moving up and then I was just underneath the two owners. I was working really crazy long hours. I had to commute sometimes during that job, like two hours because I was driving into LA (Los Angeles), and traffic was crazy. And then driving out.

S.o I would just stay even later and I was working, working, working. The thing I realized is that no matter how much work I did there was always more. There’s never an end to finishing all work that could or possibly will be done. There’s no exact stopping point that you’ll eventually find that all the work you need to do as a business owner or even just as an employee is done. But creating a healthy stopping point when it hits this time, I’m going to stop my day and pick it up again tomorrow.

It’s always going to be there waiting for you. It’s still there and what I find is, is it the Pareto principle? It is the idea that if you constraint your time to a certain limit, “I’m going to be done by five o’clock. Five o’clock I’m cutting it off.” What happens is you start to become more productive because you start to innovate. You start to be creative. You’re forced to constraint and because of that constraint, you have now to innovate. Without a constraint, it could be endless.

You give somebody in your team an endless amount of time to do something, they can take weeks. You’re like, “No, I need this done by Friday.” Then they start to innovate. “It’s not possible the way I currently do it to get done by Friday. Okay, what can we do to change that?” Every week you can have this done. Then, you start to get innovative.

I think there are secret benefits to doing that cutoff time that psychologically feel backward but we’re going to become more productive as a result of creating that cutoff time. Do you agree?

Thanh: I one hundred percent agree because there are actually multiple benefits to setting that cutoff time. You mentioned one […] of them right there which is like setting a deadline first. We know that there’s nothing better than having a really good deadline that forces you to get a lot of things done in a shorter period of time. Having that cutoff time every single day is like having a deadline every day for yourself to say, “Okay, I need to get all of these work done before a specific time,” and if we don’t have that, then we take up the whole day and even more than that to get the things done that we need to get done.

That goes back to what you’re saying early like Parkinson’s Law. Something takes up as much time as we give it to. If we say, “I want to have this done in two weeks,” it can be done and if you tell yourself it can be done in one year, it will be done in one year. It’s just a matter of how much time we give ourselves to get something done.

By having a daily cutoff time, by forcing ourselves to do the things that need to be done, especially if you focus on one or two major things like the one thing or the two smaller things and say, “Okay, I need to have this done before five,” then you will find ways like you said to get it done.

The other big benefit of that is that when you have that balance to say, “Okay, after five I’m going to stop working,” you can then go to bed earlier. You can enjoy time with your family. You can spend time with your kids or you can do some personal hobbies. You can run some errands. You can do all these different things that restore order in your life. They give you a sense of relief. They give you a sense of energy to help you recover.

Guess what? You’re going to show up as a better owner, as a better property manager the next day because if you’re sleeping well, you’re eating right, you have the time to do all the things you need to do, you’re going to show up the next day feeling refreshed and having more energy. Like we talked about and like you mentioned earlier, energy is such an important factor. It’s such an important currency for productivity and when we have the energy to focus and do the things we need to do, we are so much more productive than without it.

It’s like if you have really nice sports cars sitting in your garage, you’re the perfect driver. You know exactly how to drive it. You know every single feature, but the car has no gas. Guess what? You’re not going to go anywhere even if you have the right tools, you know exactly what you need to do, you have no gas? Guess what? You’re not going to drive that thing anywhere.

It’s the same thing for us. If we don’t have energy. If we don’t have any of that when we’re starting our day, it’s just so much more challenging to be productive. Then we have to caffeinate. We have to drink more coffee or tea getting ourselves ready. That’s not a success […] for us to be able to focus and be productive for the rest of our lives. We want to be able to start our day, get things done that need to be done, and have the energy to focus and do the best work that we’re paid to do, essentially.

By introducing that cutoff time, it has so many benefits that come with that. Just think about all the benefits that come with having more energy. Sleeping better, running the errands you need to get done. Having that sense of order in place because you can do all these different things. It makes it so much easier and makes you so much happier as well. That’s going to be reflected in your work you do the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that.

Jason: I think ultimately what all of these creates is presence. It allows us to be more present or more there when we need to be there. If a property manager is communicating with a tenant, they need to be on when things get difficult or sticky. They need to be on with an owner and they need to cognitively have the ability to make decisions, and move quickly, and think.

All of this gives us power. It gives us power when we’re able to be more present because if you’re tired, you’re not present, not nearly. If you’re cognitively burned out, then you’re almost in a situation that is painful that you’re forcing yourself to do something. Forcing your body to do something that is uncomfortable. You’re done and you keep going.

Let’s go back to the idea of this ideal day. How do we create a map for our ideal day? When do you do this?

Thanh: Ideally, you want to plan your ideal day the night before. That’s something that is such a simple habit that I teach and very few people actually do. But once they do it and follow through with it, they start to know this huge productivity jumps because it allows you to start your day right away, as soon as you’re done with your morning routine or you’re sitting down on your desk instead of just starting your day where you’re scrambling, trying to figure out what to do.

Also, the other benefit that comes with planning your day the night before is that you can go to bed knowing that everything is being addressed and is going to be addressed the next day as well. You can feel relaxed and not stressed out as much because you know anything that needs to be addressed needs to be done the next day, so you can sleep a lot better. It has so many energy benefits as we talked about earlier.

Planning your day the night before is one of the first things I would recommend people do. The second thing is to have one big goal. One big win for the day, then the third thing is the cutoff time. You have those three pieces in place, plan it the night before, one big goal, and having a cutoff time. You will have an ideal day figured out for yourself.

If you’re working from home, one of the things I would also recommend that you don’t eat at your desk. Actually leave your office or your home. This applies also if you’re working on an office because most of us are just sitting at our office or desk the whole day and we get so burned out by just looking at a screen, being on Zoom meetings, or being on the phone the whole time that it’s actually nice to be able to step away.

Go for lunch for an hour and go for a walk. By the time you come back, get outside. Get some sunlight, some vitamin D and you feel so much better. Your mood is elevated. You have a new sense of urgency, a new sense of energy. Stepping away from your desk to have lunch, as simple as that sounds, will make a big difference.

I was working with this coaching client. He had all these big goals and we were committed for a three-month engagement. The only thing we did is I told him to go for an hour-and-a-half every single day because he was working at a big bank. He was super busy. He felt like he just had to work 80 hours a week. The only difference that we truly implemented was just going out for lunch because it’s like a mid-day reset for him.

I gave him a new sense of energy, a resurgence of focus. He was able to work from going to 80 hours to 55 hours, which was a huge improvement for him. The only change was because he had a longer lunch and is going outside. Going out for lunch away from his office. As a result, he was just more focused, had more energy, and knew exactly what he needed to do. He had more time to think about stuff. So, instead of just sitting there all day at his desk feeling lethargic and just sitting there for the sake of sitting there, he wasn’t actually truly productive.

Again, plan your day the night before, have one big win, set a cutoff time, then definitely go out for lunch outside of your home and office.

Jason: I love it. It’s like breaking up your day into two chunks to tackle. It’s a lot easier than doing an eight-hour chunk. The night before, why not do planning in the morning? Maybe you can touch on that. Some people do this. They get up in the morning. They sit down. They’re like, “I’m going to plan out my day,” and they do it in the morning. Advantages? Disadvantages? What are your thoughts? I’m sure you’ve had clients doing that.

Thanh: Yeah, I’ve done both for many years. Planned the night before and I also planned the morning of. One thing I found is if you’re somebody who is a morning person, you have the energy you have in the morning, then planning the night before gives you the most benefit because you can just start your day right away and just use your energy and focus on the important task that needs to be done. You just get started right away. You’re not wasting time or energy planning something. You already did that the night before.

If you’re a morning person, then I would say that’s the way to go. I would say for a majority of people that applies too, even if you’re not a morning person. Even if you’re somebody who starts a little bit later, let’s say 10, 11, or 12. It’s still beneficial to plan the night before because you can go to bed knowing that, “Okay, I have an idea what to do.”

Also, there’s the sense that once we know what we need to do the next day when we go to bed we can just feel assured that we’re going to do this, but also, our brain will start thinking about how do we solve this particular task or problem or knowing exactly what we need to do the next day.

That’s very powerful as well whereas if you plan the day off or the morning of, often it’s easy to get distracted, or to have an excuse for something, or just continue to lay on the bed a little bit longer because we wanted to. Because there’s no sense of urgency or clarity about, “Okay. I need to do this today,” because that planning process still hasn’t come up.

I think for many reasons and for many people planning the night before is more of a preference, ideal, something that you will make a habit of because I do think it has much more impact. But if you’re somebody who doesn’t’ really get started until two or three o’clock in the afternoon, then I’d say it’s okay to do it in the morning because you’re not going to be as focused anyway. Those are some of the pros and cons, but if I were to work with a client, I would always recommend doing it the night before.

Jason: I like the idea you touched on there that if you do your planning the night before, you’re then allowing your subconscious to work out a lot of the details. A lot of entrepreneurs operate based on their gut, their intuition. It’s things that they’re subconscious, or deep down are coming up for them, or they’re figuring out. I think that gives them more of an opportunity to use that supercomputer that our subconscious mind is. That makes a lot of sense.

I’m going to play around on that. That sounds cool. You always hear the phrase, “What keeps you up at night?” Entrepreneurs are notoriously known for being kept up at night because they’re worried about something or working on something.

Maybe just the act of offloading everything at the end of the day and saying this is going to be a plan for tomorrow, instead of leaving it there feeling like you need to work on it, that’s going to allow your subconscious to work on it, but also create the space so that you can get good rest and you aren’t kept up worrying about things. It’ll allow you to lower that anxiety or that pressure, noise, or that stress that every entrepreneur tends to carry.

Thanh: Yeah, that’s why I always recommend that people journal at night as well because when we have so many thoughts before we go to bed, it’s just so hard to fall asleep. I’ve been really geeking out on this even further because I have an Oura ring, one of those fitness trackers, and one thing I’ve […] is that when I journal and I put all my thoughts away, my REM sleep goes up significantly. REM sleep is when […] frustration for our brain, for our mental health, and when I don’t journal, the number of minutes of REM sleep goes down quite a bit.

I think it’s really because when our brain is occupied with all these different things, it cannot actually relax as much because there’s just so much going on. But when we journal and put it on paper, put it away from our head and actually put it on paper, our brain can relax knowing that we don’t’ have to use this as memory or store anything. It’s on paper. It’s there.

If we need it, we can access it. We don’t have to worry or stress about it. You can actually focus on recovery while we’re sleeping. It also helps you to sleep better. You feel less stressed when you do that. It’s a nice winding down routine for you as well to decompress and just destress. I like to journal in the morning as well just to reflect and think. Also at night before I go to bed just to honestly put my stray thoughts away.

If I wanted to do something, or I had a particular task, or I had an idea that I don’t want to lose, just write it down real quick. It’s out of your head and as you know, our memories are terrible. I’ve had so many ideas and then go, “Oh, what was the thing I was thinking about? That was such a brilliant idea.” Or I had a catchphrase and I was like, “Oh, I should use that on my podcast or marketing copy. Oh my gosh. I forgot what that was. I wish I had written that down.”

Our memory is as not strong so it’s always a good idea to write stuff down as quickly as possible especially before you—

Jason: […] about the palest ink?

Thanh: That I don’t know.

Jason: It’s the palest ink. I’m being Asian Efficiency now. It’s my turn. There’s this Chinese proverb that the palest ink is better than the best memory, or something like that.

Thanh: Oh, I’ve never heard of that. I might have to borrow that from you.

Jason: You could look it up. I don’t know who said it, maybe it was Confucious, he says everything. But anyway the faintest ink is better than even the best memory because it’s there, it’s tangible, it can’t be forgotten, We know our brains are not really great at accuracy or remember things, so I love that idea.

Related to that, Mr. Asian Efficiency, how do you feel about typing versus writing? Because what you’re saying is writing in my journal, writing in my journal. Are you actually writing or it sounds like it can be more digital, nerdy, tech, whatever way of typing everything. A lot of people are, “Type it all. Type this note. I’ll type it on my phone. Type, type, type.” Do you find there is any difference? Are the things you feel like writing is better suited for? Do you write anything? How does this work for you?

Thanh: I think this whole analog versus digital is an interesting conversation for many people. What I have seen in my own personal life and amongst thousands of our clients is that there’s no one best way to do something. It’s really a personal preference. You can have a paper to-do list, or a physical planner where you write your to-do list, or you can have a digital one. I tend to prefer to use a digital planner myself, but when I’m writing notes down or journal, I usually like to do it on paper.

There are scientific studies that show if you write something down, you tend to remember better. Your retention is a little bit better. There’s some value in that as well. You also need to look at the functionality, utility value that comes with that because you leave a piece of paper at home, you can’t really access it anywhere whereas if it’s something in the Cloud or Evernote. If I write it down on my computer or write it down on my phone, I always have it with me whenever I need to.

I like to have a combination of both so for example my to-do list is digital, I use OmniFocus as an app for that. Then in my company we use something like Jira, a project management tool. For notes and just storing ideas and just random stuff I use Evernote. That’s on my phone and also on my computer and available on the web. That’s an easy way to access stuff very quickly too.

But when it comes to journaling, I like to have a physical planner. I use something like a five-minute planner or just a self journal which is a physical planner. I use it every single night and every morning to either plan my day, to think about stuff, or to just write down and just put some thoughts down or ideas that I have. Whenever I am traveling, I’m also carrying one with me. If I don’t have it with me, then I’ll store it in Evernote real quick.

Most of the time, I like to use something physical because it allows me to disconnect from my computer. I’m sitting behind my computer most of the days and when I’m sitting there, I’m just not as creative because I’m associating computers and screens with work. Sometimes, if I want to be creative, I have to actually step away from that to be able to go to my whiteboard. That’s another tool that I use which is physical or pen and paper-ish. Just go to my whiteboard and start mind mapping, brainstorming ideas, or creating a quick list of things I need to do or want to remember because I can be so much more creative when I’m away from my computer.

The same thing with pen and paper. Sometimes, if I’m doing thinking questions for myself then I say, “Thanh, what will it take to double my business over the next six months?” That’s a simple question that I ask myself. If I do that behind my computer, I get easily distracted. There’s notification popping up. “Oh, let me just quickly check this email. Someone’s messaging me on Slack or Microsoft Teams. Oh my gosh, I’m getting so distracted,” whereas if I’m away and I have my favorite beverage. I’m sitting at a nice coffee shop or something, I see beautiful people walking around, there’s a nice atmosphere, and I’m just sitting there and thinking, there’s a different level of engagement, commitment, and clarity that I get from doing that.

I like to use a combination of both. Again, there’s no perfect solution for everyone. There’s no one-size-fits-all, and a lot of times people have to figure out on their own what they prefer and also depending on their lifestyle, but I think everyone can benefit from digital and paper.

Jason: Yeah. Like every podcast episode, I’m writing down notes. This is just this episode, that’s page one. I’m already on page two. Thoughts as they come to me, things I need to do, like I just wrote down I need a cool box for my mic like you have because I don’t have that. That’s kind of cool. I’m always thinking and the brain is always going, so writing things down (for me) is a big deal.

I use all kinds of digital stuff to keep track of things. Keep track of tasks, keep track of what my team is doing, tons of software and my business so I get it. Then even on my iPad, I have an iPad with an Apple pencil so I can write on that and it’s digital. There are a whole plethora of different ways. I guess ultimately it’s what works for you. What’s going to actually help you feel creative, feel the momentum, and get your thoughts out. I do think there’s magic in writing.

As nerdy, as digital, and tech-savvy as I am, I think there’s magic in writing. They found that even when you write stuff out, if you lose your main writing limb and you start writing with your other hand, your handwriting will eventually be exactly the same once you get used to it again. Handwriting analysis, if you geek out on some of those stuff, is actually like brainwriting. It’s like a brain to paper. I think there’s some magic in writing that I think there’s also something therapeutic about writing for me that I just don’t get by typing something.

Thanh: Absolutely. I have a beautiful pen that was gifted to me. Someone gifted me a Mont Blanc pen and the really funny story about that is like four or five years ago when I got this gift. Someone gave me this pen and when I got this pen, back in the day I didn’t know anything about pens so I’m like, “Wow. Okay, this is a nice gesture.” So I put that pen away.

I didn’t really think much of it and a few months later, one of my employees comes here and says, “Thanh, is that a Mont Blanc pen?” and I go, “I have no idea. What does that even mean?” He says, “Oh my gosh, this pen is like $700, Thanh. Did you not realize that?” I was like, “No, but let me use it because it’s so expensive.”

That’s when I started using my pen and that’s when I realized wow this is really actually a beautiful pen. The weight of the pen, the way you hold it, then I actually started writing down stuff a lot more as a result of that. As you said, it’s kind of a therapeutic thing. It’s a beautiful tool that I have that I like to use. It’s really smooth and sits nicely in my hand. Because I’m away from my computer, there’s no crazy stuff going on. There’s a lot to that.

If you make it really enjoyable for yourself where it’s a therapeutic fun thing for you, you have tools that you use that you enjoy, then it makes it really easy and fun. Something that I always talk about in my podcast is called minimalist luxury. How can you have very few things, but the thing you do own or the best quality that you can afford is absolutely the best thing that you want to own and have?

For example, having one really nice pen allows you to do so many cool things with that. Writing a contract, or agreement, or journaling every single day. It’s a fun process for you because you love to use that pen or maybe it’s a really nice jacket that you love to wear and anytime you wear it, you feel so much more confident. Going back to that feeling that you want, that you’re looking for, it’s like if you want to feel powerful you wear that particular jacket. There’s one jacket that I have, anytime I wear it I feel so powerful. It’s my favorite jacket and every time I go to speak, that’s the one I always like to wear because I associate it with being powerful.

Jason: I think I saw the post on your Instagram or your Facebook. Your power jacket, does it have a little shield on it?

Thanh: Exactly, yeah. All these different things that we can buy and there’s not many things that we need, but the few things that we need or want to make sure it’s the best one that you can afford because oftentimes it will last longer. It’s better quality. You’ll enjoy using it more. That’s something I learned from using that pen because I don’t want to use any other pen, that’s the one pen I want to use and every time I want to use it I feel so happy using it.

Jason: Yeah. Thanh, we can probably talk about this stuff for hours. We can go on and on and I’m sure there’s lots of stuff that you can share and teach people. Maybe we should wrap this up. How can people learn more and what things do you teach or share at your company?

Thanh: Absolutely. Thank you first and foremost for serving your listeners and audience. If people want to find out more about me and what we do at Asian Efficiency, we have a podcast called The Productivity Show; it’s the number one podcast on iTunes. Also, you can go to asianefficiency.com. You can find anything there about productivity, being efficient, automation, what kind of tools to use. There’s so much free content there that I would love to share with people, so just go to asianefficiency.com and we’ll take care of you there.

Jason: Awesome, alright. Thanh, it’s been great having you here on the DoorGrow Show. I appreciate you being here.

Thanh: Thank you.

Jason: All right. We will let Thanh go. Check his stuff out. Really cool guy. Anybody that is focused on something as much as he has, has some really cool ideas to share and it’s fun to have people like that on.

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About Jason Hull

Jason's mission is "to inspire others to love true principles." This means he enjoys digging up gold nuggets of wisdom & sharing them with property managers to help them improve their business. He founded OpenPotion, DoorGrow, & GatherKudos.