Ari Meisel: The Art of Less Doing – #23
By: Dave Asprey
April 17, 2012
In 2006, Ari was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. Ari’s case was severe, and required over a dozen daily medications and several hospital visits. After reaching a personal low point in hospital, Ari decided he would do everything in his power to strengthen his, by then, weak body. Through a combination of yoga, nutrition, natural supplements and rigorous exercise (Triathon and Crossfit) he was able to fight back the symptoms of Crohns until he was finally able to suspend his medication. Eventually Ari was declared free of all traces of the ‘incurable’ disease, and competed in Ironman France in June of 2011. Ari has since spoken at seminars and at a regional TED Talk about his struggle against a seemingly insurmountable opponent. Through the process of data collection, self tracking, and analysis, Ari helped develop Less Doing. This was a way of dealing with the daily stresses of life by optimizing, automating, and outsourcing all of his tasks in life and business. Now he focuses on Achievement Architecture, helping individuals be more effective at everything. Ari joins us on Bulletproof Executive Radio to talk about how you can do the same.
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What We Cover
- How did you get interested in what you call achievement architecture?
- How did you apply your problem solving skills to curing your Crohn’s disease?
- What is Crohn’s disease, for people who don’t know?
- What enabled you to cure an incurable disease?
- How did Yoga improve your symptoms?
- What supplements did you find most effective?
- How did sports help you recover?
- Are the steps you took to cure Crohn’s disease applicable to other diseases, or problems in general?
- What are your top three tips for productivity?
- What are the most common things holding people back from getting things done?
- Do you think your experience in architecture and systems thinking helped you “build” your body back from where it was?
- If so, how?
- How do you use outsourcing to improve your life?
- How do you start outsourcing, and at what point should you consider it?
- If you had to lay down 5 steps or less for people to drastically improve their health and performance – what would they be?
- Where can people learn more about you?
Links From The Show
Food & Supplements
Dave: Today’s Cool Fact of the Day is about your sense of smell and your unique smell. You probably know that certain parts of your body, like maybe your DNA, are just yours. You have your own fingerprints, you have your own eye prints and things like that, but you probably didn’t know that no one else in the world has exactly your smell.
All mammals have their own body odors that are determined by their environment and by their genes, and these are called odor types, which means that every person has a different one, unless maybe you have an identical twin who eats about the same stuff that you do.
It turns out that your diet will mask that odor, but you can’t completely change it. Your odor is with you. In fact, this is so useful that in Eastern Germany post-World War II, when they would bring dissidents in, they would have to sit, as they’re being interrogated, on a special pad in the chair. This is absolutely true; I’ve seen photos of the setup they used to do this.
After they sweated you for eight to 10 hours with bright lights in your eyes, they would take the pad and they would save it in a special file, so if they needed to find you again, they could use that in conjunction with a police dog, and that could help to track you down.
You are listening to Episode 23 of Upgraded Self Radio. Today’s interview is with Ari Meisel. Ari is an entrepreneur, a writer, a self-tracker triathlete, survivor of a life-threatening disease, a father, and an expert on doing less and living more, which is, of course, why we have him on the show.
He comes on today to talk about how he cured his Crohn’s disease and some of his best tips on productivity and efficiency. If you’d like to see the pinnacle of biohacking and productivity, you’re going to want to listen to our interview today with Ari and see what he’s up to.
Ari Meisel is an entrepreneur, activist, speaker, and founder of Less Doing, a site dedicated to optimizing, automating and outsourcing tasks so you can do more of what you love and less of what you don’t. It’s already pretty obvious now why we have him on the show today, but he’s also the founder of Achievement Architecture, which helps individuals be more effective at everything.
He comes on our show today to talk about how you can use Achievement Architecture to get more out of your life and to share a story of self-tracking and biohacking his way to curing what some people consider to be an incurable disease. Ari’s a pretty incredible guy. We’re really happy to have him on the show.
Ari: Hi. Thanks a lot for having me on, Dave.
Dave: You’re most welcome. Let’s jump right in. How did you get interested in what you call Achievement Architecture? What is it? How did you get into it?
Ari: I’ve worn a lot of hats throughout my life. I started my first company when I was 12, and that was website design, and I had had a couple other companies before I got out of high school. Then after I went to college, I got into construction in a very hands-on way in a development in upstate New York, and then I started doing green building, then basically had this event happen in my life where I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease.
I had lots of different involvements and they’ve come together in this momentous and really exciting way for me, but basically the architecture aspect, I like building things, and also the self-tracking and everything, that came in with the disease, of course. It’s just this confluence of everything that I’ve dealt with and experienced in life that’s come together to this Achievement Architecture where I have helped people design a more effective set of goals.
Dave: That is a really, really intriguing way of starting out our conversation. I certainly in my own experience have gotten my brain turned off and, having Asperger’s type of symptoms and really being 300 pounds, had that same kind of wake-up call where you just don’t feel so good and all of a sudden you realize, “I really have to put my full mental attention on this.”
When we talk with other people on the show and just people that I coach or mentor, the people who dealt with something serious in their life almost always pay more attention to the little things, because that’s where the time goes away. How did you start applying your problem-solving skills there, these ones you picked up as an entrepreneur, to curing your Crohn’s disease? When did you realize, “Wow, I’m sick?” What did you do?
Ari: First of all, I’ll just pick up on what you said there. Paying attention to the small things, it’s something that I really focus on with my clients when I talk about the Achievement Architecture, because the 80/20 rule that everybody knows about, I think that there’s a paradigm shift that needs to happen there where, yes, of course you have to focus on the 20% to give you the 80% of the benefit, but I actually try to get people to realize that I think, personally, they should be having 80% of rest, recuperation, enjoyment, entertainment, whatever, for the 20% of time that they’re actually working, rather than the other way around where we get a little bit of recuperation and then working our butts off.
Anyway, my moment was actually, it wasn’t that I just wasn’t feeling well. I almost died, actually. What happened was, five or six years ago, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. For those that don’t know what Crohn’s disease is, it’s a chronic inflammation of the digestive tract that causes strictures and narrowing of your intestines and just enormous, enormous amounts of pain on a daily basis. It’s also considered to be incurable.
I was 40 pounds heavier than I am now, I was not eating very well. Having been on a construction site for four years, I had been smoking a lot, which is not something in my personality in general. I was just not in a good place. Then I got diagnosed with this disease.
After a couple months I was taking 16 pills a day, including systemic steroids in the form of prednisone, which were making me irritable and crazy and my [watermelon 00:06:16] had acne and I was getting up three times a night to go to the bathroom, which doesn’t make you less irritable.
I was taking a drug called 6-MP, which is a leukemia drug developed about 30 years ago. I was essentially on chemotherapy. My hair started thinning. I was throwing up everyday for six months. That also was not making me feel better. Then all sorts of other drugs.
Besides the physical pain and the constantly going to the bathroom, just emotionally, it’s crazy deep down. It’s an awful, awful disease. You actually become afraid of your own body and afraid of food and afraid of what might happen after each meal and each activity, and is that slight rumble I feel going to be gas that passes or is that going to be my next trip to the hospital?
One particularly bad night in the hospital, I literally thought I was not going to come out of it. I guess I had this moment of clarity and I realized, “Something has to be done. Medicine is not doing it for me. Something has to be done.”
Very fortunately for me, my wife, at the time my girlfriend but now my wife, was a yoga instructor and a holistic nutrition counselor. Together we decided that I needed to reboot everything. That’s basically when the journey started out. I don’t want to go on with the rest of the story, unless you’re going to ask me that question now.
Dave: That’s a pretty dramatic situation there where you just realized you have to do it. Then you figured out you have something that is relatively incurable, but how did these problem-solving skills, you got some resources, you’re obviously a smart guy, who had a holistic nutritionist in the house with you, what did you do to start the self-tracking?
Ari: My first three companies were all in tech, so always a techy, geeky background, anyway. I was going for pretty extensive blood tests every five weeks, beyond the normal testing. Instead of one or two vials, it was always six or seven every time. It was CBC and bilirubin and c-reactive protein and ferritin, pretty much a whole workup every single time.
I would get these printouts from the doctor and it didn’t mean anything to me at the time. I don’t know what possessed me to do this but I just started everything in an Excel spreadsheet. I didn’t really have any goal with it and I also didn’t really understand what those numbers meant at the time, but in a way it gave me this weird sense of having a little bit of control over the situation. I started just capturing those numbers.
Then, as I started to see the benefits of what I was doing with my life, basically I went completely vegan actually for a month, which I don’t recommend and I know that you don’t particularly recommend vegan, but I basically wanted to just reboot. Then I was vegetarian for four or five months, and then I reintroduced fish. My diet now is pretty much pescetarian, although I can eat meat without any issues, and I’ve tested that.
Anyway, I was collecting that data, and I was starting to feel a little better. Then I was seeing different than it had been before. It was just like a Rain Man moment where I was like, “Hmm, out of the 30 numbers that I’ve been getting every five weeks for the last two years, this one seems off, and I’m starting to feel a little bit better, so maybe there’s some sort of correlation.” It was at that point where I was like, “You know what? I’ve got to actually put these statistics together.” I started actually manipulating the data and graphing it over time.
As soon as I did that and I had real baseline hardcore blood numbers, which is the best I could have at the time because obviously there’s all sorts of things that can affect different biomarkers, but it gave me something real. Then I started plugging in everything else that I could think of, starting with diet. Then I played around with mood for a little, or not mood but how I was feeling for a while, but I found that that was too subjective.
The unfortunate thing with gut pain, because of the way that your intestines wrap around and up and down and all over the place, it’s very difficult to accurately identify the qualitative aspects and the quantitative aspects of pain in your gut. I found that that was not particularly useful. Plus it didn’t help me to be like, I felt really bad for a week and that correlates to this, but it could’ve been anything.
Although I did determine that stress was an enormous factor in the illness and in my reaction to it, which incidentally is where the Less Doing stuff comes from, but we’ll get back to that, I got on this obsessive kick. I started reading about quantified self. I had read Tim Ferriss’ book before “The 4-Hour Body” came out and then I started following your website, and I just started finding all these cool tests that I could do.
I was fortunate enough that I could afford to do these things, so I was like, why not? I did genetics with 23andMe, I did a dual x-ray absorptiometry scan up at Roosevelt Hospital here, because bone density deterioration is one of the aspects of Crohn’s, extra colonoscopies, which are no fun, extra blood testing and even semen analysis, which turned out to be a really interesting measure.
Dave: That’s actually really interesting. Certainly the Bulletproof diet and all is designed for fertility, but I’ve never tracking semen quality as an overall indicator of health. That’s actually kind of brilliant. How cool.
Ari: The funny thing about the semen analysis, besides the fact that it was one of the creepiest experiences I’ve ever had in my entire life, I was used to seeing all this data that was bone density, grams per cubic inch, and then bilirubin, units per milliliter, and c-reactive protein is a number between 0.1 and 0.7, and then you get the semen analysis back and it’s viscosity, opacity, motility. It was a very different set of indicators.
My understanding also is that, especially with the medicines that I was taking, semen quality would react very quickly to those harsh medicines, so it was a good indicator at that point.
Dave: Now, I’m going to ask you a question, and I try to not be that guy who talks about mycotoxins in every show, even though I’ve done research on them: have you looked into the relationship between aflatoxins specifically and Crohn’s disease?
Ari: No. I never knew about mycotoxins before I started following your website.
Dave: Just do a quick Google search for “Crohn’s, aflatoxins” and you will be shocked at the findings that most people who have Crohn’s seem to have aflatoxin in their system. Usually it’s in their diet.
That’s why I took all the aflatoxin-containing foods, or at least the most likely culprits, and pulled them out of the Bulletproof diet because a lot of people who sometimes think they have Crohn’s or they have ulcer quite as sore and they just have a lot of digestive problems is caused by basically antibiotic levels of these leftover mold contaminants in their food.
That’s just another thing to explore. Fortunately, you can get blood tests to see what your levels are, so it’s relatively straightforward to biohack that one.
Ari: Believe me, if there’s a test that I haven’t done, I’m going to do it, so thank you.
Dave: You use the word “cure,” and you’ve cured an incurable disease. How did you actually cure it? What makes you say it’s cured, not in remission? Your usage of words there and the way you’re thinking about something that’s really difficult to achieve for most people, how do you know it’s cured?
Ari: Part of that is a mental attitude, honestly. Remission means that it could come back anytime, as far as I’m concerned. I believe that I have beaten the hell out of this disease and it will never, ever come back. There’s no signs of it in my body and my c-reactive protein levels, which is a general indicator of inflammation but particularly related to Crohn’s, this is the lowest it’s ever been.
I did Ironman France after I started feeling better and I wanted to really push my body, and that raised up my c-reactive protein levels, actually, not to Crohn’s levels but raised it up so at this point it’s lower than it’s ever been, which I credit in a large part to krill oil, by the way.
There is such a mental aspect to it that I feel that … I place an enormous amount of importance on stress. I have Achievement Architecture clients right now who come to me for medical reasons and they want to biohacking stuff. I have a client with psoriasis, which has a huge stress component to it. A lot of autoimmune and, as you know, a lot of inflammatory diseases have a huge stress component to it.
As kooky as it may sound, since I believe I’m cured, then I don’t get scared when I feel a little grumble in my stomach or I don’t get scared if I happen to have diarrhea because I had Mexican food, whereas before that could’ve been a really bad sign of something.
Dave: You said some pretty key words there. You said it’s in remission or it’s as cured as it’s going to be, but the bottom line is that for all of us, we’re all basically in remission from dying, pretty much.
Dave: Some of the Singularity guys are right in our lifetime, which is a stretch, I would say. You’re looking at dying, anyway, so spending all your time freaking out about it is actually one of those things that leads people to make poor decisions in business and in life, whereas it sounds like you got a little bit of an up-close look at it and realized that you were going to look at your own biological response to stress, which is pretty cool.
Ari: It’s an interesting thing overall for me, and actually, when people ask me why I did Ironman, which was great but it was crazy, the disease had me being a very negative person for a very long time. I was angry with my body. I was angry that, “Why me?” I was just angry.
In the end, the disease gave me a perspective on life and I stopped sweating the small stuff in a big way. I’m a much more mellow person than I’ve ever been. I just don’t worry about things the way that I used to. Then the reason I believe that I went for Tough Mudder and then triathlon and then eventually Ironman was because I needed something that was even harder on my body, I felt, to give me a perspective on my disease.
Dave: Speaking of stress reduction, you also mentioned your TED talk about how yoga improved your symptoms. Can you talk a little bit about how yoga improved your symptoms from Crohn’s disease?
Ari: Absolutely. I have a funny relationship with yoga because I became a yoga instructor, as I said, and I was pretty obsessive with yoga. After Ironman, I started doing CrossFit. I quickly became very obsessed with CrossFit and yoga fell by the wayside. I regret that, so I’ve been bringing it back a little bit.
Basically, a couple ways. One, the physical actions of yoga, I feel, do things to your body that a lot of other exercises don’t do, such as the really statically-held extreme twists, which I think massage the internal organs, the handstand, the practice of inversion. There’s no question that that invigorates your nervous system and in a specific way it affects the way your nervous system interacts with your gut, for some reason, the head-stomach connection thing.
Then of course the overall practice is very calming, and at the time, when I wasn’t as in tune with my stressors as I feel that I am now, it was a really good way to take myself out of myself for an hour.
Also, when I did my teacher training, which I did through Yogaworks, it was me and 15 women in New Jersey and most of them were mothers and most of them were 30s or 40s. It was an emotionally awakening experience for me and just a really warm and wonderful way to get your yoga teacher certification.
The whole experience for me was just very special and it was a particularly transitional time in my life. I got married and there were all sorts of good things that were happening altogether.
The yoga almost more symbolically for me was a really good thing, but what that did in conjunction with me also becoming a volunteer EMT was that I have a much better knowledge of the body now and what things mean, what things don’t mean, more importantly, and I know that if I am feeling weird in one part of my body, I always know the right stretch to do now to deal with it right away, which is a nice set of knowledge.
What I also took out of that experience was that meditation has very different meanings to different people, and this is something that I really stress with my clients. I tell all my clients that they have to meditate. I get a lot of rolled eyes when I do that, which I understand, because most people think of meditation as sitting in the middle of a room with your legs crossed and your eyes closed, not saying anything and clearing your mind, but for me, that’s not meditation.
That is, for some people, but in general, to me, that’s not the definition of meditation. To me, meditation is anything that gives you that opportunity to take yourself out of yourself and just have a new perspective, like a breath of fresh air.
For me, personally, yoga is not my meditation. It’s something that’s very special to me and was a physical experience. My meditation is really martial art of Krav Maga, which I know actually you’ve written about it on the site, too.
I boxed for eight years when I was in high school and in college. I’m a yellow belt in Krav Maga now. It’s getting a fight or kicking someone’s ass basically or getting your ass kicked. It’s like the Fight Club thing. It’s no joke. To me, that’s meditation.
Dave: The idea of pure focus is a part of things. When I was younger, if you’re going 30 miles an hour on a relatively gnarly trail on a mountain bike, you can’t not pay 100% attention because if you don’t do it right, you’ll hit a tree. It’s the same sort of thing where you put everything you have into something, and that will put you in a certain focus state where it’s actually a flow state.
I practice martial arts. I’m a yellow belt in judo. I don’t practice now, but it’s the same exact sort of thing. You also have to get around your fear in both those situations and set your fear aside, is this guy going to hit me in the face? Am I going to get hurt? You just have to execute in the face of fear, and that does something unique to the brain.
Ari: There was a funny little result to that, too. I trained for a year for the Ironman and I did Ironman France, which is considered to be the second-hardest Ironman.
Dave: It’s all the cheese and wine? Is it the cheese and wine that makes it hard along the way or was it something else, though?
Ari: That would be nice, yes. People did come out, but believe it or not, it’s funny because I did the half-Ironman in New Orleans and the official aid stations, they have crackers and Gatorade and even Coca-Cola, but in New Orleans, people were coming out of their house with plates of crab cakes, and that’s the last thing that you want to see.
Doing the biking in France, people were literally standing there with croissants and I’m sure that I saw wheels of Brie at some point, all these things that you do not want. They think you want it, but you don’t. It’s hard just because you’re swimming the Mediterranean, and then the bike is part of the Tour de France basically and there’s 6,000 feet of climb, and then the run is just notoriously boring.
Basically I was ready and it felt good, but then I was really getting nervous about the swim and mostly because Ironman swimming is a very aggressive sport in itself and people get very aggressive and handsy. Elbows go flying and people just swim right through you. I was really worried about that.
When I got in the water, and I’m swimming along and everything felt good, about 300 yards in, this guy hit me in the back of the head with a closed fist really hard. It immediately snapped to my head, I was like, “Wait a minute. I’ve been hit before. I’ve been doing Krav Maga. This doesn’t matter,” so I swam over that guy and then I was good for the rest of the time, so it was like that extra benefit.
Dave: You definitely engaged yourself at a full body and a cognitive level using competitive sports. What about the sitting with your legs crossed where basically you turn off the voice in your mind instead of pure distributed focus? Do you have a practice like that that’s helped you heal? There’s pranayama and yoga, you have probably ohms in your yoga classes, more of that side of things; do you do that, too?
Ari: I probably should do that more. I always found that the breath control stuff did actually help me quite a bit and it felt really good, but to be perfectly honest, I can’t tell you the last time where I was in a situation where I got really stressed out and all of a sudden I needed to regroup myself just to calm down.
I just developed this more overall calm about these situations now, so I almost feel like I’m in a bit of meditative state all the time now. A lot of that has to do with the Less Doing stuff, which came about about a year ago, where I started to systematically become more productive, and by “more productive” I mean basically managing my time better.
Dave: It’s interesting, the getting-things-done philosophy is very much the same philosophy that you can reduce your stress very dramatically just by knowing that your system is in place.
Before we go into your productivity test, which we’re about to do, I wanted to mention on the focus state that helped you achieve the calmness, that you’ll be calm and centered in any situation.
With my clients, I find that emWave, the heart rate variability training, I could do that with someone who I tell them, “Look, you need to meditate,” and they’re like, “Look, I do meditate,” but they don’t, or they just look at me and say, “That’s for wusses. I’m too busy to meditate,” which is a very common thing. It’s something I would’ve said. If someone told me to meditate 15 years ago, I would’ve just been like, “You know what? You’re obviously kooky. I don’t want anything to do with you.” You’re not psychotic.
When I apply math to this, you don’t have to meditate, you just need to make your heart rate follow this certain pattern. It takes all the judgment out, but it still helps people who haven’t maybe mastered that ‘sit still and don’t let anything come into your head.’ I was never good at that until I learned to control the heart rate, and then all of a sudden I reached that state where I’m not really going to get mad at anything, it’s not really worth it.
Ari: Yeah. First of all, before I started to get in better shape, my resting heart rate was 86 when I was, I guess, 23 or 24 years old, which is ridiculous, and my blood pressure was 130 over 100, which is also ridiculous for a 23-, 24-year-old.
Then, at the end of all this, obviously a large part of this was Ironman training and getting in better shape, but I think the aspect of it that I associated with the calmness is that I used to get what my doctor called “white coat hypertension,” where I knew what my blood pressure was, but then if I went into the doctor’s office and they tested it, it would systematically be 15% higher.
That doesn’t happen to me anymore and my resting heart rate now is 52 and my blood pressure is usually around 100 over 70. If there’s a marker of being more chill, I would say that that’s pretty much it.
I have not yet taken the leap to try the heart rate variability stuff, because obviously I’ve read about that on your site a lot, it’s just, I don’t know, a need hasn’t arisen yet to really dive into it, but I actually have recommended it to two of my clients to look into.
Also, the thing about being too busy to meditate is really funny because there’s this book that I bought a few months ago just because of the title, it’s amazing, called “Take a Nap and Change your Life.” Literally this entire book is just about how to take a better nap, when to take a better nap, why naps are good for you.
There’s a section on how to justify to other people why you’re taking a nap, and it’s like Question & Answer. One of them was like, “Are you too busy to nap?” and it’s like, “No. I’m so busy that I have to take a nap.”
Dave: Winston Churchill actually said that a lot. He said he couldn’t have handled World War II stuff if he hadn’t been napping everyday. Definitely I think there’s a great case for that. We’ll make sure we include a link to that book. We’ll find it on the web just so people can find it in the show notes, because it sounds awesome. I haven’t read it, but I want to.
Co-host: Ari, speaking of stress, one of the things you’re also a master of is productivity. What do you think are probably the three top tips for productivity that you could tell our listeners?
Ari: I developed this framework, which is to optimize, then automate, and then outsource, and I’ve used that to pretty much work with people to attack any problem that they possibly could have.
In a generalized sense, that would be my answer, but basically, first you look at, what is the task? What is the problem? What is the issue? Whatever it is I’m doing. Then trying to pare that down to the bare minimum and trimming all the fat and getting it down to the very basic of what that thing is.
Then you can attack it by trying to automate as much as possible, whether that’s through web applications or just protocols that you have set up with other people. Then if there’s anything left after it’s been optimized and automated, then you can outsource it.
The goal with everything that I do with the Less Doing is to free up your time, but more importantly to free up your mind. As far as I’m concerned, if you can free up an hour or a minute or even a second of somebody’s time, it’s worth it, because we already only have a limited ability to use our brain, obviously.
We waste a lot of that activity, we waste a lot of those resources on things that don’t matter and shouldn’t matter. The things that we really want to do and that we really enjoy doing and that we really want to think about get pushed by the wayside by the things that we think we have to do.
The way that this really struck me in retrospect was that, in high school, I was getting literally an idea for a business everyday. I have a notebook from high school that probably has 30 pages of business ideas in it. I’d say 99% of them are terrible, but I had these ideas all the time.
Then when I got to college, I was having those ideas maybe once a week, and after college, they stopped. I was working in construction 18 hours a day and I was not coming up with new interesting, creative ideas. I just chalked it up to not having a sense of creativity anymore like I had in my youth.
Of course, I said this when I was like 20 years old, but basically I was not allowing myself the freedom of using my mind. The whole idea of this was just free up your time, free up your mind.
Once I started doing this stuff and alleviating the things that I really didn’t need to be thinking about and creating the external brain of note-taking and offloading as much as possible, ideas started coming back, which was just the most amazing feeling ever. It was like parts of my brain being reawakened.
Incidentally, as far as the stress aspect goes with productivity, I wrote an article on my blog a few days ago about getting rid of your to-do lists and not having to-do lists, period. Then just by happenstance I found this thing called the Zeigarnik Effect, which is a psychological effect that basically causes intrusive thoughts about things that we have left incomplete.
It’s human nature to finish what we start, and if it’s not finished, we experience dissonance. Basically we have this little voice in our head that we don’t even know about that’s constantly bugging us about tasks that we have to do and that we haven’t done, so quieting that voice is a really important aspect of this.
Dave: In my coaching experience as an executive coach and then to an entrepreneur side, I can’t think of one time when I’ve spoken with someone who hasn’t said, “I have that voice in my head that just won’t shut up.”
I’ve forgotten what that’s like, because the racing thoughts is oftentimes something that affects sleep. I don’t have that anymore. It’s completely gone. When I look back a decade ago, it was constant, basically sitting there criticizing everything I would do, which was totally hampering my effectiveness.
I was still kicking ass as an entrepreneur, but I had this little voice in my head snarling at me all the time to do more and do better. It’s pretty different once you learn that you’re in charge of that voice. The process of learning that certainly can come from having a big illness and it can come from a bunch of different directions.
There’s the martial arts and the really pushing yourself athletically, and there are a bunch of other ways, and one of the things I’m working on with the Bulletproof Executive is enumerating those ways and trying to map them out to which types of people do better with which types of techniques so that we can do a better job of guiding people who read the blog but also people who we might talk to on the street, say, “You should do the emWave,” “You should do [inaudible 00:34:00],” “You should do pranayama,” and “You should do two Ironmans back to back.” There’s some way to do that.
Do you have a methodology there with your coaching clients? Do you have thoughts on that?
Ari: Yeah, sure. Of course there’s never a one-size-fits-all. It’s funny, because I have such a diverse range of problems coming at me with people, which is great. It’s a really interesting challenge, but there’s always these unifying factors.
It seems like in a general sense, the thing that just causes people enormous amounts of stress, and this is going to sound overly general, is not being able to do the things they want to do. Tthat could be on big levels like they’re not making enough money or it can be they’re not being able to spend time with their significant other or they’re not happy with their significant other and they’re not being able to be with the people that do make them happy in certain situations or they have a disease that’s making them in pain.
I guess it’s like a very, very basic human want to not be able to have what you want. What I find consistently with every single one of my clients is that they do not set appropriate goals and much less appropriate milestones. That’s usually my first plan of attack with people is figuring out really what they want, because what they think they want is usually not what they really want.
I have a client right now, he’s 46 years old and he’s been very successful, in my opinion, although he doesn’t recognize that himself, and he thought that he wanted to do a tech startup. There was no way in my mind that a 46-year-old who has already been successful and has two kids wants to do a tech startup. With working through this with him, we figured out what he really did want and it was something entirely different, and that’s what we’re working on now.
The goal-setting thing is just the most amazing thing. One of these examples that I just love is, you know SteelFit, which is like the SEAL version of CrossFit?
Ari: They have their hell week, or actually the SEALs have their hell week, too, which is literally a week of not sleeping and constant movement and exercise and it’s like logical torture. The head coach of that program, who was Mark Divine, said the worst thing that can happen is if there’s somebody comes in this and they say, “I just have to make it to Friday,” he said, because that person will not make it to Friday.
An appropriate goal for a person coming into hell week is to say, “I want to make it to sunrise.” Once you get there, then you’ve accomplished something, and then you can set a new goal. That’s what I’m constantly working on with my clients is setting reasonable goals, because I’m sure you have had this experience with clients of yours, but when somebody comes in to say, “I want to lose 30 pounds,” that to me is not a reasonable goal.
Do you want to lose a pound a week? Do you want to exercise more? Why do you want to lose that? Do you want to fit into something? Do you want to look better? What is the actual goal there? Saying just arbitrarily, “I want to lose 30 pounds,” to me is not a really good way to start things.
Dave: Yeah, and without a timeline it’s not that meaningful of a goal, that’s for sure. If you couch it in terms of benefit, “I want to lose 30 pounds because …” it changes things.
Dave: So you’re definitely a fan of that, and I can see that dynamic mapping back to my experience. When I was 26, I found that I was worth $6 million on paper, before my company went bankrupt. I’m like, “My God, I’ll stop when I’m worth 10.” The difference between $6 million and $10 million is pretty much invisible. If I want something, I’ll buy it. Unless it’s an island, it doesn’t really matter.
It was a youthening experience on my side. I’ve played that game over again. There’s a very simple rule, which is sell half. Pop half of it and put the rest in risk if you feel like you want to keep doing something, but most people, especially when they’re younger, when they see this, they double down, and that’s not always the right strategy because there’s no goal behind it.
Ari: Absolutely. Also, I feel personally like I’ve been successful in the businesses I’ve done, although I can relate with what you’re talking about because when I was 23 years old, I had $3 million in debt in real estate. That was an interesting experience in itself.
Obviously I was under a lot more stress then, but now I feel that I’ve been and am fairly successful. I still enjoy optimizing the way that we spend money and not being necessarily what might be considered frugal but figuring out, gaming the system. That never changes in my mind. You can always do things more efficiently, so why not do it?
Dave: Exactly. You can always basically get that time back as soon as you find a way to do it better, which is cool, because I want to ask you, I’ve used the personal assistant in the Philippines, I’ve outsourced enormous amounts of stuff.
In fact, there’s no way I could be a vice-president at Trend Micro and spend the vast majority of my waking hours doing cloud computing and also do this blog if I wasn’t really good at finding people to help and being able to put my knowledge and experience down but not spend 40 hours a week doing it.
I’ve got some thoughts about outsourcing, but I want to hear yours, and maybe we can compare notes after you tell our listeners the techniques you use to use outsourcing.
Ari: This is a funny thing. I don’t have a virtual assistant. I use a service called Fancy Hands which offers non-dedicated virtual assistants. I do have virtual assistants at my disposal, but I haven’t had a dedicated virtual assistant over a year and a half, because, as I explained in my system, it’s optimize, then automate, then outsource, and I’ve just been able to fortunately not have to get to that third step with 99% of the tasks that I do.
This is also an interesting confluence with starting Less Doing, but basically, a year and a half ago, I had been working with a virtual assistant for a year and a half in India. She was amazing. Her name was Christy and she knew everything. She knew birthdays, she knew credit card numbers, bank accounts. She probably knew how I like my coffee, even though I never actually had met her in person, and this was before Bulletproof Coffee.
She was amazing. One day she says, “I’m being promoted and I’m no longer going to be a virtual assistant.” I went into full-on red-alert panic mode. I was like, I don’t know what I’m going to do. Do I have to retrain somebody? After I calmed down, I was like, “Give me a list of everything that you do for me on a regular basis.”
A couple days later, she sent me a list of about 45 tasks. I looked through them and I realized that 10 of them weren’t really applicable and didn’t need to be there, five of them could actually be combined because they were duplicates, and then, of the remaining 30, about 27 of them could be completely automated with web applications, that didn’t exist when I originally hired her but now did.
What I was left with was three tasks that really required a person to deal with them, and it was three tasks out of 45 that I felt like, “You know what? It’s okay for me to do these by myself and not have an assistant.” So I didn’t have an assistant from then on.
Then I found Fancy Hands, which was started by Ted Roden who was a New York Times editor, and it’s really awesome. Basically for 45 bucks a month, I get unlimited tasks, and a task is pretty much anything that takes 20 minutes, and it can be done remotely. They’ll do phone calls or reservations or research or whatever you might want to do.
Since it’s a non-dedicated assistant, they don’t get to know you, they don’t get to know your credit card, they can’t buy things for you, that kind of stuff, but using all sorts of other tools like the canned response plugin for Gmail, which lets you create template emails, I can send the repetitive tasks to someone because it’s just a matter of clicking, pulling up the template and then sending it.
One of the things that I’ve automated completely is the process of dealing with parking tickets, because I get a lot of parking tickets.
Dave: That’s actually funny, I was considering parking tickets a cost of doing business. By the way, I share your experience there with the virtual assistant. I had one for about a year and a half, and then her agency wanted her to change jobs.
I asked her to maintain “How to run Dave’s life” lists in case she disappeared somewhere, which [inaudible 00:43:20] the new person, but the switching cost, the education cost was actually much higher than I would’ve thought. I’m actually going to try Fancy Hands now that you’ve mentioned it, because I looked at Brickwork and all the stuff that Tim Ferriss talked about for our work week and I didn’t get what I was looking for there.
I tend to find high-quality people and make it worth their while to work with me, but it’s one of those things. It’s not as simple as it looks in somebody’s books, so you may have hit Nirvana here. I think people should spend a little more time looking at your blog.
Ari: First of all, one of the things with Fancy Hands which we don’t get with most virtual assistant companies is that all of the people that Fancy Hands uses are either in the U.S. or in the U.K., so they have perfect language skills, which is the Holy Grail obviously when it comes to virtual assistants. I’m very comfortable having them call people for me and communicate with people.
I wrote this little eBook, which is only 16 pages long, about how to work with a virtual assistant and in it I list over 100 things you can have virtual assistants do. The truth is that the majority of the things that you can have people do, you don’t necessarily need a dedicated assistant.
In thinking efficiently and optimizing, obviously investing in a person that you never met and will never meet carries some inherent risk, so if you can run clean and lean basically and anybody could take over a task for you without any input on your part, then obviously you’ve done something right.
The parking ticket is a really interesting one for me and it has not escaped from the quantified self aspect. I have a pickup truck, a Chevy Avalanche, but I’m in the construction business so I have my name outside of the truck.
In New York City, you can pretty much park a truck wherever you want for up to half an hour because it’s considered loading and unloading. Realistically, I do park in front of my building on the street for much more than half an hour at a time, and I pretty much get a parking ticket almost everyday, and sometimes twice.
Yes, you’re right, it’s a cost of doing business, and as far as I’m concerned, parking in New York City, the cheapest I could park for a month in New York City around my area is $600. If I pay less than that in parking tickets, as far as I’m concerned, I’m doing okay.
The process of this is very simple. Boomerang Mail is a plugin for Gmail, and among other things it allows you to send recurring emails. I have a recurring email that goes to Fancy Hands and it’s a template that I’ve created. It’s as if I have somebody dedicated to me who automatically will check my parking ticket for me, but this is someone, every time that someone knew, and I’ve never had a problem with this.
The template says, “First of all, please, go to the New York City Department of Finance website. Click on ‘Parking tickets.’ View any parking tickets for the last two weeks and take note of them. Click this link to pull up my standard invoice form. Adjust the date of the invoice to match the date of the tickets,” because if you send them an invoice basically saying you’re making a delivery, then you can get the tickets as fast.
“Adjust the date of the invoice to match the date of ticket. Include this letter that has my signature explaining that I was making a delivery at the time and adjust the date of that as well. Then use the service called PostalMethods which lets you send a PDF through the mail, and done.” The final step is, “Go to this Google doc form and input all these details about the tickets.”
What I’ve done with that Google doc form is that I have found out, over the hundreds of tickets that I’ve gotten over the last couple of years, that Wednesdays between 9 and 11 and Tuesdays between 2 and 4 are the really, really bad times to get tickets. By avoiding those times, I’ve been able to reduce the number of tickets by 40%. Of the tickets that they dispute for me, nine out of 10 get dismissed and the one or two that I end up paying a month amounts to about $180.
Dave: That is hilarious, and that’s a prime example of quantified self, not just monitoring your heart rate or something but monitoring your behaviors, looking at the external environment, doing the math and seeing an advantage. I think that’s actually just funny and very, very smart.
Ari: The most important thing about that is I’m doing that with a non-dedicated assistant who I’ve never met. I don’t even speak to them because it’s through email and I don’t have to explain anything, and I probably will never get that person again, and yet it runs seamlessly.
Dave: That is a great example of outsourcing. We’re coming down to the end of the show here, so I’d like to ask you a couple things. The first one is, if you had to lay down just three things that people could do to improve their performance across all domains to improve the quality of their life, what are your Top 3 things just off the top of your head? Any domain.
Ari: My Number 1 productivity tool is FollowUp.cc. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the most important productivity tool that I use on a daily basis about 20 times a day.
It’s very simple. Basically, if you send an email, you can CC or BCC any time period you want at FollowUp.cc. I might send you an email, Dave, and then Ben and BCC two days with FollowUp.cc. If you don’t get back to me in two days, it will resend you the email’s reminder and send it to me as well. If I BCC it, it will just send me the reminder.
You can set any time period you want, whether it’s one month at FollowUp.cc, Thursday 9PM at FollowUp.cc, one year at FollowUp.cc. It also can put all of those follow-ups in your calendar. What this has enabled me to do is get rid of my to-do list, because as far as I’m concerned, to-do lists make static something that should be dynamic.
I get follow-ups that are relevant to following up with somebody that I met at a party and I might want to do business with, following up on a client that I sent a bill to, following up with a customer service agent that I want to make sure I can get a refund from.
Basically, at this point, I’ve gotten into the habit that if I do a FollowUp.cc on email, within three of four seconds of sending the email, I could not tell you what the email was about because it’s completely out of sight and out of mind. That’s the Number 1 thing.
The second thing as far as wellness is I feel that unfortunately people, at least in this country, do not get enough probiotics in their diet, and I think that probiotics are an enormously important aspect of health.
I’m a particular fan of the GMC 75 because most probiotic pills are four billion units or eight billion units whereas the GMC, one is 75 billion units, and I actually can feel it from day to day if I miss it. People think that you can get that from eating yogurt. You have to eat like 14 cartons of yogurt to get a significant amount of probiotic. We don’t need … What?
Dave: Yogurt’s laughable, I would just say, as a probiotic source. That’s just marketing. Like Coke isn’t a good source of C02 either. It just doesn’t make sense. Go ahead.
Ari: We don’t eat, as far as I’m concerned, enough fermented foods in this country, either, which is the tip of the iceberg of us being too clean and having allergies and all sorts of stuff, which I don’t need to necessarily get into, but I think that if you’re going to do one thing in addition, probiotics.
I happen to take a few supplements like krill oil and Cat’s Claw and other things, but the silver bullet as far as I’m concerned for most people and most problems, whether it’s autoimmune or rheumatoid arthritis or bad digestion, I think that probiotics are a hugely important thing.
The third thing is that I think that everybody at some point should work with a virtual assistant. Whether or not they think they have the time, because most people tell me, “Oh, I’m too busy to train somebody, to talk to somebody,” or whatever, that is the exact person who’s working with a virtual assistant, not necessarily because the virtual assistant will help them with their time, which they obviously will, but because the process of working with a remote assistant is a training experience, an education experience for you.
People start to realize, when they have to write down a task in email, and it shouldn’t take 10 minutes to explain a task by email, I think that people start to learn as they go through that that, “Oh, this is an easier way of saying it,” and, “Oh, I don’t have to do that stuff,” and, “Oh, maybe I should just have them do this,” and “Oh, this whole task is actually pointless, so forget it, I won’t ask them to do it.”
I think that everybody at some point needs to work with a virtual assistant. Actually, to that end, the quality of the assistant is less important because it’s more about your ability to educate, train and communicate.
Dave: It is funny. I love the idea of a virtual assistant as a path to mindfulness, but it works.
Ari, thank you for taking your time to be on our show today. Can you tell our listeners where they can find out more about you?
Ari: Yeah, sure. I’ve now combined all my websites under Less Doing, so LessDoing.com is where my blog is, it’s where you can find out about me and my background as well as all of my coaching services that I offer. That’s the central hub for everything, LessDoing.com. Do less and get more done.
Dave: I very much like your philosophy and definitely support it. Thank you so much for being on the show. We’ll have a full transcript of this hosted on Bulletproof Exec so people can search in and find all the things we just talked about today.
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