Note: This is a guest post by Sebastian Marshall.
One of the fastest ways to have a better life is to pick low hanging fruit – things that have low cost, low downside, high potential upside, and that get results pretty quickly.
Sound too good to be true? It’s not. But most people leave this low hanging fruit alone for some knuckleheaded reason. They see an idea which looks like a good one and they think, “Hmm, maybe I should do that”. But they fail to take action immediately and thus the idea never gets materialized.
Here are 7 low hanging “pieces of fruit” you can use to get some quick, beneficial results with low cost and downside. (I bet you can implement one of them in the near future).
1. Fill up your dead time. Try audio to start.
Every day, you’ve got at least 30-60 minutes of time where your mind isn’t fully engaged or fully relaxing. I call this “dead time” – this is time commuting, running little errands, cleaning your kitchen up, things like that.
Start getting value out of this time. I like audiobooks and podcasts – I’ll probably get through 30 books on audio this year just listening when I’m running errands, straightening up, little things like that. This is a huge download of business ideas, productivity ideas, biographies, and even good relaxing through some good stories.
If you have a smartphone, you probably already have an mp3 player. If not, buy one. They’re cheap. Then make grabbing your headphones and starting your audio automatic just like picking up your keys before you leave your place. Your brain will thank you.
2. Utilize “hard quitting” to remove temptations.
There’s probably all kinds of little things you don’t want to do, but you get little pressures and temptations to do in your life. Everyone wants to cut back on something.
Try “hard quitting” – instead of cutting back, just refuse to ever do it again, and let everyone in your life know it. If you’re trying to cut back on a bad kind of food, people might pressure you to try it. But when you say, “I don’t eat that, ever” – people usually respect it and don’t pressure you.
Here’s a tip to make it easier – make the first thing you hard quit something that you don’t like all that much anyways. So you might say, “No thanks, I don’t eat donuts.” And someone says, “You can have juuuust one….” And you reply, “No, I mean, I don’t eat donuts. Ever. I don’t ever donuts, I don’t like them.” (If you like donuts a lot, try this with something that’s unhealthy that you don’t like much. It’s almost magical in how empowering it can be).
3. Get some external accountability.
In the long run, personal habits and self-discipline and building willpower produces great results.
But in the short run, very few things outperform external accountability.
If you already have a public platform (a blog, Twitter account, being a regular at a discussion forum, or whatever) – try announcing some change you’re going to make. Before you do it, set a rough battle plan for how you’re going to do it (whether you want to make money online or lose weight) , and announce the schedule you’ll update people on.
It’s incredibly motivating knowing that other people are paying attention and watching you. If you don’t have a public platform, try emailing 5-10 of the closest people in your life. Ideally, you’ll get some good feedback and encouragement, and also you know people will get on your case (in a good way) if you slack off.
4. Get your personal finance infrastructure to stop doing damage to you.
When I started calculating the numbers, I was horrified. I was paying a 5% currency conversion fee and 3% in ATM fees every time I took out money.
If you’ve never really audited your personal finance system, it’s quite possible that you’re losing 5%, 10%, or even more in stupid banking fees.
At the very least, get a debit card that refunds your ATM fees (in the USA most online-only banks do this). If you’re spending significant time internationally, get credit cards that have no foreign exchange fees (for Americans, all Capital One cards do this, as well as some miscellaneous other ones like the British Airways Chase Visa).
You should be paying: No account fees, no ATM fees, and no significant foreign currency fees on normal transactions. You should also minimize fees to send people money (lately there’s been a lot of new competitors to Paypal worth checking out) and to do wire transfers. Some transactions where the company adds a lot of extra value for, you should pay for and know you’re in good hands. But for standard banking, there’s so much competition that you shouldn’t be taking a beating.
Check your system out and minimize the fees down. Mint.com is a good way to start auditing.
5. Get your personal finance system working for you.
The first step is to stop getting it doing damage to you. After that, start researching getting signing bonuses for credit cards or just get something that has solid benefits and rewards. Right now, you can find a couple cards that will give you a consistent 2% cashback or equivalent on every transaction or give you airline miles. This might take you 5-10 hours to research and make choices, but those choices will mean 2% to 5% more spending power for the next few years. It’ll pay for itself for almost everyone.
6. Measuring things (almost) automatically improves them.
If you want to make significant changes without too much effort, just start paying attention to what you’re doing. Take a pad of paper or a text file and mark down, for instance, how you’re spending money. You don’t even have to change anything – just write down what you spent on that day.
Just becoming more conscious of things will almost automatically improve the area. You’ll make connections like, “Hold on a second… I’m spending 25% of my income on my car, and I don’t even like driving. I could either have this car, or I could get a nicer apartment in the city and get two massages per week.” When you see things like that on paper, it definitely helps you upgrade easily.
7. Listen to people when they say, “I don’t understand why everyone doesn’t do this.”
When someone says, “I don’t understand why everyone doesn’t do this,” they’ve usually found something that’s a big win at minimal cost, and near universally applicable.
There’s lots of wins like this – if you buy two high end suits or more per year, it would be cheaper including airfare for you to fly to Saigon, Vietnam and have them made there. And they make beautiful suits.
(I recommend Dung tailor in District 1, pronounced “Yoong”)
I give this advice to everyone I know that buys suits – go to somewhere that’s nice to vacation and where it costs a fraction of where it does in the West. A few people have taken my advice and been happy with it; most don’t and keep living normal lives and missing out.
The same goes for when a friend of yours tells you about an incredible signing bonus on a credit card and how you can get free flights without changing your current spending pattern, about when someone recommends a kind of emerging marketing with low cost and huge ROI, and all sorts of things.
When people get really excited about something, it’s a good idea to check it out. If the cost and downside are low, then jump on it right away. It’s knucklehead behavior to ignore low hanging fruit – stop doing that! When you get a piece of advice with low cost and low downside that sounds promising, don’t put it off until later or you’ll forget and it won’t happen.
Try it quickly – it might change your life.
Sebastian Marshall writes daily on strategy, self-discipline, history, habits, international travel, entrepreneurship, and lots of good things at SebastianMarshall.com. You might enjoy “How to Get a Raise” if you’re salaried and “What skills do you need to be an entrepreneur? Only two” if you’re self-employed.