It’s that season again, when speakers from every walk of life compete for the most viral commencement speech of the year. Politicians, actors and actresses, journalists, singers, business leaders, generals and myriads of others vie to utter the most inspiring, motivational, stirring oration. So far it looks like ex-Navy Seal Admiral William McRaven is this year’s star speaker with almost 1.5 million views of his address at the University of Texas.
Various bloggers have also joined the fray, posting their own “commencement speeches” to pump our young people and to fuel their drive and ambition.
Well, I’d like to jump into the mix too, but my aim is to give the most “boring” commencement speech ever.
I’ll let others do the soaring; I want to bring our graduates back down to earth. I’ll let others paint a future full of exceptional dreams and visions; I want to give you everyday routine and the mundane. I’ll let others thrill you for a few minutes; I want to impart what will last and endure for decades. I’ll let others say what you want to hear; I’ll say what you need to hear. I’ll let others talk about grand pillars and glorious edifices; I’m going to talk about unseen foundations and invisible girders. I’ll let others speak of champions, winners, and leaders; I want to speak about administrators, organizers, and filers.
I’m going to give you 10 actions that will change your whole life; not in a dramatic way, but in a slow, steady, almost imperceptible way. These are 10 actions I wish I’d learned 30 years ago, 10 actions my schools never taught me, 10 actions I’ve had to learn through painful experience, and that I’m still learning even up to the present.
1. Keep an up-to-date calendar
One of the most frustrating experiences for employers is when young people don’t show for interviews or meetings. It’s happened to most of you hasn’t it, and the main cause is trying to remember everything in your head (or just depending on Dad and Mom to remind you). That might have worked in the past but life is going to get more and more complicated. From this moment on make it a habit to write down every appointment, every meeting, every deadline. Ideally use an online calendar that you can access on various devices. My favorite is Google calendar. And remember to read it at the beginning of every week and the evening before every day to ensure that you keep your commitments.
2. Schedule every day
This is one of the most helpful tips I’ve recently learned. Instead of just getting up and getting going at 100mph every day, or alternatively ping-ponging from one thing to another with no sense of purpose or urgency, take 10 minutes at the beginning of every day to write down the tasks you will do today and when you will do them – preferably the most important first. And include 15 minutes for the admin in points #1-10. What you’ll find in life (especially with tasks you don’t like) is if you don’t schedule it, it won’t happen.
I use Google Calendar in “Day View” for this. I create a new calendar within my Google Calendar, I call it “Schedule” and I make the entries in red. That allows me to turn it on and off so that I can just see my appointments when I want. This will help you not to plan too much but also prevent you just going round in aimless circles.
3. Keep a To-Do list
If you don’t, you will forget, you will fail to keep your promises, you will be forever apologizing, and you will be in a constant state of worry and stress. It will give you tremendous peace of mind to write down every to-do that is presently filling your mind and calling for your attention.
I use Wunderlist because it’s free on all platforms and devices and syncs seamlessly. It’s got tons of features but you don’t need a PhD to use it. It allows you to have different To-Do lists for different areas of life and work, and also set due dates and reminders.
4. Complete Financial Peace University
This is the best $100 or so you will ever spend. It is perhaps the biggest regret of my life that I never heard of Dave Ramsey until I was 44. Follow Ramsey to the letter and you will not only avoid a ton of debt and stress, but you will be able to build wealth so that you can be a more generous giver. Zero-sum budgets, balancing a check book, accountability, etc.,- yes, I won’t deny it, totally boring processes – but you will be incredibly excited by the results over the long run. If you don’t want to spend the $100, then you can get a cut-down version of the essentials in Total Money Makeover.
5. Move your life to Evernote
Even in this digital world, it’s incredible how much paper is still generated when you start to live more independently. Many of you already know this from your studies. You will never be able to keep track of it all. So get yourself a cheap scanner, or pay a bit more and get one with a sheet feeder that’s been designed to work with Evernote and get into the habit of scanning everything – insurance, bank statements, letters, certificates, invoices, college notes, everything – then shredding almost everything.
Evernote is free and the free version will probably be enough for you starting out in life. But, for $45 a year you can get the Premium version that gives you even better searchability and allows you to store a greater range of document types. The searchability is the main selling point of Evernote, and again you can access all your files from every kind of device. It’s a kind of portable digital filing cabinet that can be searched with a click of a few buttons. If you don’t do this now, you will wish you had done it five years from now.
And while we’re on the subject of digital organization, sign yourself up for Diigo or some other bookmarking service, and keep a well-indexed track of all the great websites and blog articles you come across. Over the years it will become like your own personal Google that makes searching for stuff so much easier.
6. Set aside an admin space
No matter how small or cluttered your apartment , you need a dedicated space with a desk that you do all your admin in. I recommend one “In-tray” that you put everything physical in (e.g. letters, bills, receipts, instruction manuals) and you process that every week (preferably the same time every week) by going through the whole tray, doing what needs to be done, scanning what needs to be scanned, and shredding everything you can. The aim is as digital as possible and as paperless as possible. Even most instruction manuals have an online pdf version that you can upload to Evernote.
7. Limit and block email
Try to use one message system for administration. It’s almost impossible to keep track of Facebook Mail, and SMS, and Email, etc.
I recommend GMail because of it’s searchability, and try to get as many people in your life as possible to contact you through that one channel. You can use Facebook and Texts for social stuff perhaps, but for admin, organization and professional life, you are best to have only one pipeline into your life.
And not only limit your channels but limit the time you spend dealing with it to two blocks of 15-30 mins a day. It is extremely damaging to your mental and emotional well-being to be checking email 18 times an hour (which is the present average for office workers). Have a quick scan first thing in the morning and deal with anything urgent; then set aside 15-30 mins in the early afternoon and/or last thing in the day to deal with as many emails as you can as fast as you can. I time myself doing this to keep the pressure on and make me as efficient as possible. I then count the number of emails processed in that time and work out an “emails-per-hour” speed which I compare day-to-day. I’m always aiming for a personal best – probably a man thing.
8. Minimize interruptions
Do not work with email, Twitter, Facebook, Texts on and open with all their various chimes, cheeps, beeps and blips. You’ve probably got into some pretty bad habits in your studies with innumerable digital and physical interruptions.
You must make it a priority to develop and strengthen concentration by working for 15 minutes uninterrupted, then 30 minutes, then 1 hour and work on increasing that week by week. You will accomplish so much more and have much more quality time to spend with people in your professional and social life.
9. Build regularity into your life
Younger people tend to be a bit chaotic and unpredictable. Through your studies you may have got into the habit of just doing what you feel like doing, or working frantically on what what’s late and due. Every day is different and that’s so enjoyable in a way.
I want to encourage you to build as much repetition and rhythm into your day as you can. God is a God or order not of confusion (1 Cor. 14:33) and He’s made us to thrive best when we image Him in His order and regularity. Work on regularizing the times you work, eat, exercise and sleep, until your body clicks into the rhythm that will put you in the zone daily.
Sleep 7-8 hours a day and take a full Sunday off work and study every week so that you can worship God and build community with others in a local church. Both regular sleep and a regular Sabbath have been proven to enhance every area of human well-being. If you doubt me, have a look at some of the recent studies on the epidemic of sleep deprivation that is ravaging our generation.
And let me finish by urging you to rest in Jesus, to cease and desist from trying to work your way to heaven or even achieve your way to happiness on earth. He’s lived the perfect life and died the perfect death and offers it to you. Jesus does not primarily call you to service, to mission, to achieiving, to extraordinary acts of spirituality. He calls you to rest, to come away from all your “To-do’s” to His “Done.” He says, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).
There you go, the most boring but perhaps the most useful commencement speech you’ll never hear. I thought of making a video of it but it would probably get about 10 views. I’m not waiting for colleges and universities to flood me with invitations for 2015.
But perhaps here and there some young people who have not been taken in by the soaring oratory of unrealistic dreams and false promises will say. “This man’s not out to make a viral video. He’s out to build a solid practical foundation for my life.”
And if you haven’t fallen asleep yet, here are my Top 10 Books for Graduates.