Boring But Rewarding Development Areas
I’ve previously written about Surprisingly Interesting Topics; areas which might sound dull but are actually captivating once you dive in.
There’s another category of valuable topic: those that never become captivating, but that are so damn good for you that you should persevere out of self-interest.
You’ll never buy a coffee table book on these subjects, but they’ll make you a lot of money and give you a lot of freedom.
Our minds are not perfect mathematical machines.
Just because something makes economic sense doesn’t mean it will register in our brain.
For example, if you said “Hey Isaac, if you dig holes in the ground for four hours, I’ll give you $600”, then I’d be racing out to grab a shovel.
But if you said “If you learn about tax for four hours, you’ll save $600 a year”, I wouldn’t spring out of bed with the same motivation.
Exactly the same numbers, but the thrill of gaining $600 registers differently to saving $600.
That’s the situation with tax.
It’s so dry that we don’t ask more questions, even though we’re poorer for it.
Don’t pretend you are happy to pay more tax than necessary either.
If I could give you an extra $1,000 cash from your tax return, would you donate it back to the federal government?
Yeah, that’s what I thought.
Paul Steele said: “The aim is to pay lots of tax, but no more than necessary”.
What a great attitude.
Tax is win-win, because we only pay more as we earn more.
I’d be happy to pay a million dollars in tax, if I was earning over two million in the process.
Tax funds good things, like hospitals, schools, roads, aid programs, welfare and and aged care.
Whilst you may not agree with every decision made by the state, at least you live in a democracy and live in better conditions than all of your ancestors.
However, there is a “Correct Amount” that we should each be paying, and we don’t want to pay more that we need to.
Learning about tax is where we learn to find this “Correct Amount”.
It teaches us how to forecast the amount we’ll be expected to pay, so we don’t get a nasty shock at tax time.
It also teaches us how to claim everything we possibly can – like car costs, home office expenses, equipment for work like cameras or uniforms, books that contribute to your professional development, etc.
This is the right spirit; we’re not ripping anyone off, and we’re not paying more than necessary.
You’ll learn how to save an extra few hundred/thousand dollars a year, which you can then spend, invest or give away to a cause you love.
Just don’t blindly pay too much because you’re too impatient to learn.
About halfway through my degree, I discovered a small magic trick.
If I wrote a mediocre report, then went to the university bookstore and had it properly bound, it received about a 5-10% higher grade than it deserved.
It took 5-10 minutes and cost $2.50 – an absolute bargain for a better mark.
This taught me a valuable lesson – you can, in fact, polish a turd.
Formatting is a signal to your reader that says:
“I am a professional, so assume what I say isn’t rubbish”
The starting assumption is that you are worth taking seriously.
Vice versa, a scrappy document creates suspicion.
Eventually the truth comes out, but a head start always helps.
Formatting gives you a slight advantage, and a consistent slight advantage can compound into great long term results.
This applies to Word documents, PowerPoint presentations, Excel spreadsheet, websites, PDFs, business cards and visual signage.
Firstly, if you use the wrong tool for the job, you’ll look unprofessional.
For example, don’t send a resume or invoice as a Word document, use a PDF.
That way, the recipient’s computer won’t ruin the formatting, and they can’t see the revisions you’ve previously made.
Secondly, learn how each tool can be used to be as persuasive as possible.
Dave Trott always talks about the order of advertising:
It goes Impact – Communication – Persuasion.
No impact and it gets ignored, and if it’s the message isn’t understood then it can’t persuade the target audience.
The same goes for our documents.
If your PowerPoint slides are ugly or hard to read, there’s no communication.
If your business cards look amateurish, they won’t be persuasive.
If your reports are dull, dense and text heavy, they won’t be read thoroughly.
Personal Schedule Management
Time management advice is usually awful, usually along the lines of
“Cut out all the fun from your day and do twice as much boring work”.
Not only is that dull, it also doesn’t work over the long term.
You’ll have an efficient routine that you hate, and will drop it within a few days.
The real question is:
“How can I design a routine that I will love, and that doesn’t have the roadblocks that interrupt my work?”
The nice part is, this is built around you and your preferences.
The catch is, once you’ve chosen a setup, you have to actually do the work.
For example, you might be productive in the mornings, or late at night.
You might work in small chunks throughout the day, or need big slabs of dedicated time.
You might like working in silence, with the white noise of a café, or with constant music.
You might prefer pen and paper, a whiteboard, a tablet or a computer.
Learn what works for you.
The measure is not: How much can I do in an hour?
Instead it’s: How much good quality work can I produce in total?
Efficiency is doing the things well, whereas effectiveness is doing the right things.
You want a routine that’s effective, and effectiveness is measured by output, not time.
If people think your preferences are stupid, but you make good work, then it’s a success.
If people love your shiny work setup, but you are always bored or distracted, then it’s not a good setup.
Learn what works for you, then buy your tools and toys – in that order.
An expensive pen is no better than a cheap biro if you hardly ever use it.
But if it allows you to write faster and capture more ideas, then by all means splash out.
For me it’s my laptop and notebook – I love them, so I take them everywhere, so I write more.
If I switched to an uglier book or a heavier computer, I probably wouldn’t have them with me, so I’d get less done.
I’m aware that sounds shallow, but it works for me.
The same goes for your choices – if they work, they can’t be too stupid.
Long Term Investing
If you thought the $150/hour hole-digging offer was good, wait until you see the maths on this one.
The benefits of long term investing are phenomenal – you will be literally hundreds of thousands of dollars better off if you start now.
The catch is, the person it benefits is you in 30 years’ time, which feels like an entirely different person.
Making a few crucial decisions now has a great impact on the rest of your life, but you won’t see results immediately.
In other words, if you dig holes today, you’ll be paid $2,000 an hour but in ten years’ time.
The skill of long term investing has four parts:
1. Learning how investing works
2. Picking an investment you like
3. Forming the habit of regularly adding to your investment
4. Not touching it even when other investments seem more exciting.
The first step can seem boring, but it’s actually quite interesting if you have a good teacher.
It probably takes between 3-6 hours.
The second part is easy, if you know what you’re looking for.
It probably takes 2-3 hours including filling in forms and setting up accounts.
The third quickly becomes routine, and it’s satisfying to watch your money grow.
It probably takes 1-2 minutes each time you get paid.
The fourth part requires patience, but the payoff is tremendous.
It takes no time at all, but requires you to stay level headed.
These four areas might feel like eating your vegetables, but they’re all designed to make your life easier.
By getting into good habits, you’ll do more good work, have more money and therefore more freedom with your career.
Where else do you get such a payoff from only a few boring hours?