TIME advice

How Can I Get What I Want in Life?

Worried about my job
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Answer by Oliver Emberton, founder of Silktide, for Quora

There are just two reasons why you haven’t done the stuff you ‘want’ to do.

  1. You can’t because of something external
  2. You won’t because of something internal

Here’s the thing: nearly everyone who succeeds, will always assume number #2. By default, the reason they have failed is themselves. It is, without fail, their own fault. Always.

If this sounds like willful bunk, consider the flipside: those who fail always assume it’s not their fault. With that attitude, your ego is forever letting itself off the hook. You can’t learn from your experiences, except maybe that you shouldn’t have even tried, because – well – that big bad world was just super-mean to you again.

Try listening to a lot of normal conversation: it’s just ego repair.

“I’ve been here 6 years in the same job and they still haven’t promoted me!”
“I know, me too! It’s so unfair…

As Don Draper would say: I hate to break it to you, but there is no big lie. There is no system. The universe is indifferent.

Whenever “it” or “they”, “he” or “she” is to blame, you’re just diverting the blame. Because the only thing that matters is what you can control: what-are-you-going-to-do-about-it?

There are always situations when you really can’t have something that you don’t control. Maybe you dream of being a championship triathlete, but you were born without legs. Well of course.

Except that kind of reductio ad absurdum doesn’t excuse 99.99% of the identical, fundamental bullcrap that most people lament about: their health, jobs and relationships. For this trinity, the principles are well known and within the capability of everyone. Assuming, of course, you accept responsibility for that.

Why do we make excuses?

Making excuses can make us feel better. Excuses are like painkillers for our self-respect.

Surely they evolved with this purpose. For not everyone can succeed all the time, and if you can’t, it’s better that you don’t become too depressed about it.

But the chances are the things that you want – that you want the most – are not fast cars, Angelina Jolie’s chest or a giant catapult to the moon. Most of us crave fundamentally simple things: love, respect, security, health, significance. These things don’t require that we’re born to wealthy parents, or with perfect genes.

If you’re reading this, the chances are you have access to education, sanitation, medicine, freedom of speech, shelter and the sum of the world’s knowledge (The Google), and that you take them for granted. For over 150,000 years human life would have utterly sucked compared to now, and you’ve been born in the last 70 or so, in the blessed minority, when it doesn’t. You’re so lucky you can’t imagine.

You are the problem

Whenever you hit a wall: find what you can do about it, do it, and forget anything else. All the other stuff just consumes your attention and accomplishes nothing.

The solutions to all your problems are probably so obvious, you likely already know them. The trick is simply acknowledging it’s your responsibility alone to make it happen.

This question originally appeared on Quora: Life: How can I get what I want? More questions:

TIME advice

What Is The Most Productive Thing I Can Do When I Am Bored?

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Answer by Visakan Veerasamy, an employee of ReferalCandy and writer for Poached Magazine, for Quora.

I’ve noticed that everything that’s been stated involves doing something or trying something or focusing on something.

I propose elimination. See how much you can cut away from your life. Via negativa.

Eliminate needless clutter from your desk.

Eliminate needless noisemakers from your social media. (Eliminate needless social media channels altogether.)

Eliminate needless apps from your phone.

Eliminate needless blogs from your RSS feed.

Eliminate needless books from your shelves.

I think of this as an ‘Odyssean’ activity.

Odysseus guarded himself against temptation by the Sirens by getting his men to tie him to the mast of his ship.

Our willpower is limited.

In moments of clarity (or boredom, when we have enough energy to do simple tasks but not major ones), it helps if we tie ourselves to our masts by eliminating distractions.

Cut away anything that isn’t relevant to what you want to achieve in life. Do it now, while you can, and you’ll thank yourself for it later when you’d have been otherwise distracted.

Of course, you never want to get too extreme with this, because there is always value outside of what you’ve set up for yourself. That random annoying person on Facebook might just be the spouse of your dreams. It’s pretty unlikely, though.

Trust your own judgement and get rid of what you know, with reasonable certainty, to be a waste of your time.

That leaves you with only what matters. Now that’s productive.

This question originally appeared on Quora:What is the most productive thing I can do when I’m bored? More questions:

TIME advice

What Are the Best Bargaining Techniques When Buying a Car From a Dealer?

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Answer by Jason Lancaster, president of Spork Marketing, for Quora.

1. Don’t negotiate. Tell the salesperson and sales manager that you’ll sign the paperwork the minute they hit your target figure. Politely decline any counter-offers, give them your phone number, and leave. If the price you’ve proposed is within the realm of possibility, they’ll call you at some point.

2. Follow-up on Saturday or Sunday nights an hour before closing time. Call and ask to speak with the salesperson or manager you’ve spoken to before. Remind them you’re a buyer when they meet your figure, but that they shouldn’t waste your time if they won’t.

If your offer is possible, the opportunity to do one more deal before the end of the day might compel them to work with you…especially if the dealership is having a bad weekend.

3. Follow-up on the last day of the month. Again, salespeople and managers are often under pressure to find one more deal before the month ends. A deal that didn’t make sense on the 25th might make sense on the 31st if the month hasn’t met expectations.

4. Follow-up on days that have had terrible weather. A major snowstorm, a day of wind and rain, etc. can dramatically affect car sales. Call and remind the salesperson or manager that you’re happy to come down when they meet your offer. Again, the fact that they’re not selling cars might get them to bend in your favor.

5. Rinse, wash and repeat. Do the same process concurrently with a couple of other dealers in your area. Make sure they have the car you want, and then give them their mission.

6. Know what a car is worth. If you’re buying a new car, Edmunds.com and TrueCar.com provide “true market” estimates that are reasonably accurate. If you’re buying a used car, KBB.com is a great resource, as it will tell you both retail value and wholesale (aka trade-in) value.

My suggestion is to try and buy a new car for $500-$1000 less than true market value. This is aggressive, but assuming that you’ve got time and you’re willing to work the phone, you can often find a dealership willing to dip into their holdback (financial reserve) to make one more deal.

If you’re buying a used car, I’d try for a 10-15% discount off of wholesale (trade-in) value. It’s damn difficult, but every now and then a dealer will take a car in on trade at below market value. If you make this kind of aggressive offer, you might get it every now and again.

Of course, you can always just offer true market value (new) or wholesale value (used). That will make getting a deal much easier…but what’s the fun in that? (Hat tip to Doug Dingus.)

7. Secure your own financing if you can. A great way to avoid the drama in the finance office is to get a loan from your local credit union. However, if you’re buying a new car and you want to take advantage of a special interest rate (like 0%), you’re going to have to work with the dealership’s finance person.

Quite frankly, I don’t see what the big deal is about going through finance. It’s true that you’re going to be brought into a small room with a very good salesperson, and that he or she is going to pitch you all sorts of stuff. You’re an adult. You can handle this. Be polite, but say no to everything. It’s not personal, it’s just business.

If you’ve got bad credit, the dealership finance office is going to help you out (at least a little bit). However, this doesn’t mean you need to do them a favor and buy a warranty or something…just say no.

8. Always be polite. In some of the other answers to this question, I’ve read suggestions about telling the dealer to “take it or leave it,” threatening to walk out, etc. This is all bad advice.

There are a lot of things that suck about working at a car dealership, not the least of which is being treated like crap by most of the people you deal with. While dealership employees learn how to “warm customers up” – it usually only takes a minute or two to get a stranger to laugh and relax a little – it’s emotionally draining.

Therefore, when someone starts dictating terms and making threats, most salespeople and sales managers will respond aggressively. It’s human nature. Instead of finding a way to make a deal, you’ll be told to wait an hour because someone is “on the phone with Japan” (see Leonard Kim‘s comment here).

Therefore, be nice and respectful to everyone you deal with. If you’re a genuinely nice person, I’m far more likely to do something unusual for you (like selling a car for less than invoice) than I am if you’re a grade AAA jerk.

What’s more, dealerships are now frequently paid on their overall customer satisfaction scores. Polite and courteous customers are far more likely to give a dealership a positive review, and dealers know it. A dealer’s worst-case scenario is to cheap sell a car to someone who gives them a lousy review on the manufacturer’s satisfaction survey. Not only did you fail to make money, but you get yelled at by the GM or owner for doing a bad job.

In closing, the downside to my process is that you might have to buy a car late on a weekend, might have to buy a car during a blizzard, etc., but you’ll get the price you want (or at least get closer than you ever thought possible).

This question originally appeared on Quora: What are the best bargaining techniques when buying a car from a dealer? More questions:

TIME

What is The Most Unfair Advantage a Person Can Have?

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It's a trait you really can't control

Answer by Ivan Mazour, CEO and founder of Ometria, for Quora.

Not needing a lot of sleep.

This is a genuine, and unfair advantage, since it is almost entirely genetic, and not based around lifestyle or nutrition. Some people (Margaret Thatcher, Napoleon, etc) were able to function very effectively on just 4 hours of sleep, leaving them 20 hours in the day to be productive. Others need 8 hours just to feel normal, and that is 4 hours that they fall behind every single day, with no way of changing that.

It’s easy nowadays to use all sorts of efficiency methods and systems to help you get more done in the day, but as you push this further you inevitably hit a limit where you are as productive as you can possibly be. Unnecessary work is delegated out to either people or technology, and you are left doing just that which requires your personal input. It’s at that point that the extra 4 hours become a fundamental unfair advantage.

This question originally appeared on Quora: What is the most unfair advantage a person can have? More questions:

TIME Culture

Uzo Aduba of Orange Is the New Black on Changing Perceptions of Prisoners

Yael Stone and Uzo Aduba in a scene from Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black” Season 2.
Yael Stone and Uzo Aduba in a scene from Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black” Season 2. K.C. Bailey—Netflix

Has the Netflix series changed the way we think about women in prison?

Answer by Uzo Aduba, actor in Orange is the New Black, on Quora.

Absolutely, a firm yes. Before this show, I think I was not unlike Piper or perhaps even many viewers of the show, who, not that they didn’t realize that the inmates were people, but just simply didn’t recognize that they had a life and a story. Every sentence has a story. It really is true. It wasn’t until I read the pilot and I auditioned that I was like, ‘Wow, that was really great. I would love to be a part of the story like that.’ My character came in during the second episode and when I was reading the script (I think I was about a quarter way in), I reached the part with Red’s backstory and I immediately understood the show. This person, this story that we’re telling, actually has absolutely nothing to do with their crime. If you notice, it’s actually really interesting. For a lot of the characters, we don’t even know why they’re even in there and you can come to this conclusion from just watching 13 episodes. The show has little to do with their reasons for being in jail. It has more to do with who they are inside jail, who they were before going to jail, and what pieces of who they are remain and/or changed. I found it to be a fascinating study. Being on the show forced me to depart from the crime portion and instead view these women as mothers, daughters, neighbors, aunts, children, and babysitters. They are people with jobs and people who had lives. They are not just a number, not a crime, not a jumpsuit. They’re people.

This question originally appeared on Quora: Has “Orange Is The New Black” changed perceptions towards women in prison? More questions:

TIME career

What Should I Do About My Early-Life Crisis?

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Some people are lucky enough to get paid for their passions. Many aren't. It's a fact of life, and it's one you can cope with

Answer by Marcus Geduld, Shakespearean director and teacher, on Quora.

Here’s a secret: there are four types of people in the world:

1. People who, from an early age, know exactly what they want to do and are still doing it in their 50s and 60s. My friend Meggin is like that. In elementary school, she was already writing. By high school, she had written several novels. Now she’s the best-selling author of “The Princess Diaries.” It’s incredible because it’s so rare. A tiny percentile of people are like her. You’re not like her; I’m not either. Get over it.

2. People who, from an early age, think they know what they want to do. They often have big surprises in their 40s, realizing they don’t actually enjoy what they’ve committed to. Many of the apparently-directed people you see are in this group. You’re feeling lost now. They’ll go through what you’re going through later, but it will be much more complicated, because they’ll have husbands, wives, kids, and mortgages. So as nuts as it seems, you’re lucky.

3. People who don’t care about big goals. They know how to follow rules (e.g. do the homework, study for the test, do what the boss demands) and the enjoy dotting I’s and crossing T’s. They coast.

4. People like you who are lost.

Most young people are in that final category. Some hide it better than others. Some even hide it from themselves. Do your peers all seem more confident and directed than you? They’re not. Most of them are faking it or just aren’t as introspective as you are. Talk to them in 20 years and they’ll tell you how frightened and confused they were back when they were in college. So the first thing to realize is that feeling lost is part of being a 20-something.

To be honest, it’s part of being a 40-something, but those of us who don’t have midlife crises tend to embrace it. I enjoy being lost, because it allows me to be surprised. I prefer to have life hit me than to hit life. Anything could happen!

When I first started directing plays, I was terrified because I didn’t know what I was doing. My goal was to come up with a plan so that I could have some confidence. It took me 20 years to figure out that the fun was having no idea what I was doing. The fun part of directing is making it up as I go along. So I’m just as lost now as I was back then. But when you’re lost, you can either view it as a scared child, alone in the woods, or as a brave explorer, open to experience.

We can subdivide lost people into two groups:

1. People who are truly lost. They really do have no passions. Their emotions are blunted. This group may be clinically depressed. If you’re a member, I urge you to seek professional help. There are treatments for depression. There are ones involving meds and ones involving talk therapy (e.g. cognitive-behavioral therapy) that can be quite effective. If you’re clinically depressed, Quora can’t help you but a doctor probably can.

Also note that lots of people use “my career” and “my major” as proxies for their real concerns. When I was in college, most of my complaints about lofty things (“what am I going to do with my life?” “what’s it all about?” “how can I find meaning?”) really came down to panic that I didn’t have a girlfriend.

2. People who have bought into cultural norms of what they’re “supposed” to do. For example, George loves video games. They really, really excite him, but he’s been told “you can’t make a career out of that” or “that’s not for grownups,” so when he wonders what he’s passionate about, he doesn’t count gaming and decides he doesn’t have any passions. Be he does have a passion. A passion is a passion, whether it’s a sanctioned one or not.

Or Mary, who has bought into the idea that she has to choose a major in college, and that whatever you choose should be your passion, and that this choice is all tied up with a lifelong career. What Mary most loves is singing. But she doesn’t have a great voice, and she’s been told she’ll never make it as a professional singer. So she doesn’t even consider majoring in music. As far as she’s concerned — based on what she’s been told — she has no passion.

Or Dan, who dreams about being a dad. No career interests him, but he really, really wants to have children. Or Amy, who longs for a boyfriend. She’s very passionate when she imagines being in a relationship, but she feels guilty because modern women are “supposed” to be independent.

If you’re in this group then you’re not really lost. You just don’t fit well in generally-accepted categories. Well, then that’s your lot in life. If you love doodling, you can’t make yourself stop loving it and start loving banking instead. What you can do is work to arrange your life so that you can have as much doodle time as possible. You can stop confusing what-you’ll-get-paid-for with what-you’re-into.

Some people are lucky enough to get paid for their passions. Many aren’t. It’s a fact of life, and it’s one you can cope with. I’m 30 years into an adulthood in which I can’t make money doing what I most love. I don’t even think about it any more. I have a great life. I have a day job that’s interesting and a night-and-weekend life that’s thrilling.

Adrian Thomas suggests some ducks you should line up. He’s right. Do that. Then quit worrying about what you’re supposed to do. Your major? It’s not important no matter how many people tell you it is. Your passion? You have one or you don’t. Maybe you don’t have one now but you’ll have one later. It doesn’t matter. Just work to give yourself opportunities.

One last piece of advice: how much have you traveled? How often have you ventured out of your comfort zone? Consider taking a year off and backpacking around the world. Do it with little or no money, paying for your room and board by working in restaurant kitchens or whatever. Let Planet Earth and its peoples and sights shock you into becoming a passionate person. Many young people can’t be passionate because they haven’t been exposed to enough sensations and experiences to be awakened into the possibilities of the world.

This question originally appeared on Quora: What should I do about my early life crisis? More questions:

TIME career

How Do I Get Over My Bad Habit of Procrastinating

Answer by Oliver Emberton, founder of Silktide, on Quora.

I’ll answer your question, but first I need to explain all of human civilization in 2 minutes with the aid of a cartoon snake.

Humans like to think we’re a clever lot. Yet those magnificent, mighty brains that allow us to split the atom and touch the moon are the same stupid brains that can’t start an assignment until the day before it’s due.

We evolved from primitive creatures, but we never quite shed ourselves of their legacy. You know the clever, rational part of your brain you think of as your human consciousness? Let’s call him Albert. He lives in your brain alongside an impulsive baby reptile called Rex:

 

You know how you can’t help but notice if a stranger is tongue-wettingly gorgeous? That’s Rex, and no matter how hard you try, you can never turn him off. He’s your instinct, your impulse, your love and your fear.

We like to think of Albert as “our true self” – the conscious part of our brain. He’s the talking, reasoning part. When we decide to go to the gym or write that term paper, Albert made that decision. But Albert is old, easily exhausted, and switches off all the time.

Your brain is locked in a battle of wills between a sleepy professor and an impulsive reptile with unlimited energy. You may as well hand Rex the steering wheel.

Rex does listen to Albert. Like a child, he will do a lot of what he’s told, as long as he doesn’t disagree too much. But if Rex desperately yearns to crash on the sofa to watch Survivor and eat Cheetos, that’s what you’re going to do.

The incredible ascension of mankind that surrounds us is largely possible because we’ve developed systems to nurture the Rex’s in our brains, to subdue, soothe and subvert them.

Much of this system we call “civilization”. Widely available food and shelter take care of a lot. So does a system of law, and justice. Mandatory education. Entertainment. Monogamy. All of it calms Rex down for long enough for Albert to do something useful – like discover penicillin, or invent Cheetos.

Now let’s look at your procrastination.

You’re making a decision with your conscious mind and wondering why you’re not carrying it out. The truth is your daily decision maker – Rex – is not nearly so mature.

Imagine you had to constantly convince a young child to do what you wanted. For simple actions, asserting your authority might be enough. “It’s time for dinner”. But if that child doesn’t want to do something, it won’t listen. You need to cajole it:

  • Forget logic. Once you’ve decided to do something, logic and rationale won’t help you. Your inner reptile can be placated, scared and excited. But it doesn’t speak with language and cannot be reasoned with.
  • Comfort matters. If you’re hungry, tired or depressed your baby reptile will rebel. Fail to take care of yourself, and he’ll wail and scream and refuse to do a damn thing you say. That’s what he’s for. Eat, sleep and make time for fun.
  • Nurture discipline. Build a routine of positive and negative reinforcement. If you want a child to eat their vegetables, don’t give them dessert first. Reward yourself for successes, and set up assured punishments for your failure. Classic examples include committing to a public goal, or working in a team – social pressure can influence Rex.
  • Incite emotion. Your reptile brain responds to emotion. That is its language. So get yourself pumped, or terrified. Motivational talks, movies and articles can work, for a while. I use dramatic music (one of my favourite playlists is calledMusic to conquer worlds by). Picture the bliss associated with getting something done, or the horrors of failing. Make your imagination vivid enough that it shakes you. We use similar tricks on children for a reason: “brush your teeth or they’ll fall out”.
  • Force a start. The most important thing you can do is start. Much of Rex’s instincts are to avoid change, and once you begin something those instincts start to tip into your favour. With enough time, you can even convince Rex to love doing the things he hated. There’s a reason we force kids to go to school or to try piano lessons.
  • Bias your environment. Rex is short sighted and not terribly bright. If he sees a Facebook icon, he’ll want it. It’s like showing a child the start of a cool TV program immediately before bedtime. Design your environment to be free from such distractions: sign out of instant messenger, turn off notifications, turn off email. Have separate places for work and fun, and ideally separate computers (or at least accounts).

Once you know what to look for, you’ll start to recognize the patterns and control them.

There’s an impulsive baby reptile in your brain, and unfortunately he has the steering wheel. If you can be a good parent to him he’ll mostly do what you say, and serve you well. Just remember who’s in charge.

This question originally appeared on Quora: Procrastination: How do I get over my bad habit of procrastination? More questions:

TIME

What Considerations Do Police Officers Have to Make When Responding to a Call?

Answer by Tim Dees, retired cop and criminal justice professor, on Quora.

At crime scenes, or something that appears to be a crime scene, either everyone will want to talk to the police, or no one will want to talk to the police. Either one can be equally challenging. At the “everyone” calls, some or most of the witnesses will be trying to spin the incident and mislead the officer. At the “no one” calls, at least one of the people present is likely to be the perpetrator, who will have intimidated the others into keeping quiet.

The officer is usually entering an unfamiliar environment, occupied by people who live, work, or visit there frequently. He will not know the hiding places or weapons stores that are well-know to the others there, some of whom may want to do him harm, or at least keep the evidence of their crimes secret to him.

Most calls do not result in arrests or other enforcement actions. The officer may only answer questions, give some advice, or take a report. He has to be able to sort out the true and relevant details from all the noise. It’s one thing to be able to recite the elements of the major criminal statutes operable in his jurisdiction, but very much another to be able to apply a real-world situation to an assortment of hundreds of laws to decide if one or more of them has been violated.

As Allen Dean Benge pointed out, a crime is an act that has been proscribed by an appropriate governmental body. Crimes differ from other laws in that they include a penalty or range of penalties to be imposed on conviction. Statutes that define procedures or the licensing requirements for funeral directors aren’t crimes, and comprise most of the statutes in a typical book of laws.

An “assault” case can differ from one place to another, depending on how the statutes are worded. An assault may include a battery, or may be just an attempt to commit a battery. Battery may require harm, or just be an unwanted touching. The officer investigating such a case has to reconcile the physical evidence and the statements of witnesses and make a decision on whether a crime occurred at all, if one occurred, which one, and whether he can or is obligated to make an arrest. In a domestic violence case, he may have the obligation to make an arrest if it’s possible to do so. In other cases where he did not witness the crime, he may need to see if a victim or witness wants to sign a criminal complaint to enable an arrest.

This question originally appeared on Quora: What considerations do police officers have to make when responding to a call? More questions:

TIME career

What Are Some Tips and Hacks for Managing People?

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Answer by Mira Zaslove, manager, on Quora

One often overlooked tip for managing people:
Treat people who leave your company or team well, and speak highly of them after they are gone. Encourage your team to only speak positively about ex employees.

Last impressions are important. People who leave can have an important impact on your organization and your effectiveness as a manager.

People talk. Especially after they leave a job. Get former team members to speak positively about working for you and your organization. You never know who your best recruiter will be. Make it an ex-employee.

Smart employees know if you speak badly about someone who just left, eventually you are going to do the same to them. Trust quickly erodes.

As, Sallie Krawcheck writes in A Simple Way to Get a Handle on a Company’s Culture:, “In some companies, as soon as an employee leaves, he or she quickly goes from being a “valued partner” to the one who “never really cut it.” Whom the company is “better off without” and “the guy we were about to fire anyway.”

When you treat ex-employees well, not only do they look good, but YOU, the manager, look better. Zappos famously gave employees a $2,000 incentive to quit the company. You bet those ex-employees had some nice things to say about their time at Zappos, even if the job wasn’t a fit.

A friend of mine was recently working for a start-up that got bought out by Apple. He lost his job. However, Apple vested his shares, gave him a generous severance package, and an awesome referral. Apple turned an ex-employee who could have been negative into a positive supporter.

Many consulting firms, law firms, and Universities, employ an “up or out” culture, but help employees who don’t stick around. Former employees are treated as “alumni,” not “guys who failed.” As Krawcheck highlights, effective managers recognize the power of a strong network. Respect translates into referrals.

As a manager you should be able to answer “Where have my people gone after leaving?” It looks great if your people have advanced in their careers while and after they were under your management. Champion your team for moving on and for their success.

This question originally appeared on Quora: What are some tips and hacks for managing people? More questions:

TIME career

What Small Lifestyle Changes Have the Biggest Impact?

Answer by Evan DeFilippis, Reporter and manager at Innovations for Poverty Action, on Quora.

Twenty Minute Rule — Whenever I would come home from a long day at work or school, I was so tired the only things I could find energy to do were mindless life-negating nonsense — television, Netflix, Reddit, Facebook, whatever.

Every night I would somehow find hours of time to do these things (despite being extremely tired), suddenly get a burst of energy towards midnight, stay up way too late, and then get extremely tired the next morning. This cycle would repeat until the weekend, where I would stay up too late on Sunday, and be tired the following Monday. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Several years ago, I replaced this nightmarish routine with the twenty minute rule. Now, the moment I get home, I force myself to do at least twenty minutes of one of the following — write an article, read a book, practice chess, learn another language with DuoLingo (I try to do this on my phone, not laptop to minimize the risk of distraction), practice guitar, meditate, work on a computer programming language, or improve flexibility with stretching. Customize the activities to suit your interests, but this should generally not involve any computers.

Once you get past that twenty minute commitment, you will find that you have the energy to keep going. Over the course of a couple weeks, you will have finished a book — which, for many people, will be the first time they have done so in a long time.

If you simply don’t have energy to continue past twenty minutes, or to even start the twenty minutes — GO TO SLEEP. There is precisely no benefit to watching Netflix until you pass out from exhaustion, only to be tired the next day. You need to make it a habit: don’t have energy? Go to sleep. Do have energy? Spend it making yourself better.

Addendum:

The key to progress is recognizing that any forward movement brings you closer to your goal. Humans reliably fail to set aside time to do the things we really want to do, and reliably succeed at finding time to do the things we know won’t make us better.

When I wake up every morning, ask me what things will make me happy today, and I will tell you: being with my family, eating good food, having rewarding, meaningful conversations with friends, learning interesting things about the world, going on adventures, and so on. Now ask me at the end of the day how I spent my free time, I will tell you: Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, responding to angry internet comments.

Ask any parent and they will tell you the same thing, “I honestly don’t know what I did with all my free time before I had kids.” The answer is you did nothing, and now you filled that nothing with a kid….and if you have another kid you’ll see that there is a lot of time you’re still wasting. When people don’t plan, they aren’t ready to take advantage of opportunities that avail themselves, and so they play Angrybirds and watch Netflix because it takes less energy than figuring out something to do at that moment. I call this the “path of least resistance problem.” To make ourselves more sensitive to opportunities that can decidedly improve our lives, we need to structure our routines to make the path of least resistance difficult. One way to do this is the twenty minutes rule.

If we want to do something trivial, something that likely won’t matter in the grand scheme of our lives, like meeting a colleague for lunch, we will pencil a time in our calendars and get it done. But when we want to do something important and enriching, something we know will matter greatly in the grand scheme of our lives, like writing a book or learning a language, we say “I’ll get around to it.” We don’t pencil in the twenty minutes a day necessary to become the person we really want to be. And so we need to challenge the impulse to relegate our passions and our ambitions to something our future self will do down the line.

This question originally appeared on Quora: What small lifestyle changes have the biggest impact? More questions:

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