A gift to celebrate the New Year: An #IntellectualWill

My entire life I’ve been a planner and organized, but once I entered the PhD program, I realized that my system could only take me so far. I started to read more on efficiency and productivity to help me improve and grow. Eventually, I started to intuitively set up better habits that complemented how I naturally moved through life.

During summer 2017, my friend, a business owner felt stuck in his process and asked for advice on how to get organized. When I would tell him to do something, he would ask “well how do I do that?,” and I would send him instructions. Over time, things weren’t connecting and I couldn’t figure out why. Then I realized that I was telling him to do things that I have done my entire life and were now second nature to me. So I tried to think step by step how I would tell someone to work on their goals.

I call this a goal attainment system because it helped me refine my goals. I also call it a work in progress, because the document is still being refined; just like life. My friend calls it an intellectual will because it is putting into writing what you want to do and it is something that can be passed on to others.

Whatever it’s called, consider it something that you can take into the new year to support any goals you have in mind.

Enjoy, and Happy New Year,


P.S. I love feedback. If you work through this document, please send me thoughts on anything that is confusing. I want to continue refining this so it can help people grow.

P.P.S. If you know someone who could benefit from this document, please share. Thank you : ) 

Note. If you would like to read more from me, subscribe to my monthly(ish) newsletter. You can also read past newsletters to get a feel for my style.


  1. IntellectualWill: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1VPbGQD4l840CNSZqi82orM_19pjDGuPM3X7rGFdMxag/edit?usp=sharing
  2. Folder: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1vYdpcVupignqZjlnX__yyzrY5NiENNNl?usp=sharing


7 resources that helped improve my efficiency in 2016

In my recent newsletter (subscribe for updates), I shared end of the year updates and mentioned my 2016 goals and if I accomplished them. After I sent the newsletter, I realized that I focused on the things I did not accomplish and not so much on the things that I did accomplish. The number one thing I accomplished in 2016 was developing a system to help combat procrastination.

I always used to pride myself on being organized and a planner. Since even before high school, I would plan my day hour by hour in a planner or on a piece of paper. This habit followed through high school and beyond. To my family, friends, and coworkers I was someone who was determined, efficient, responsible, and dependable. I took pride in that.

When I entered my PhD program, I noticed that those same qualities were not translating into my work. I didn’t know it then, but I was feeling overwhelmed with the pressure of multi-tasking. I typically am a person who likes to work on one thing or two things at a time. But in the PhD program, there were many moving pieces and no longer could I manage it on my calendar or piece of paper.

I needed a new system and if I were to succeed in my program,  I needed it fast.

When I need to solve a problem, I seek out solutions. I figured out that feeling overwhelmed was my root problem

I started reading books and blogs and watching videos that could help me become more productive and efficient. These books, videos, people, blogs, etc. have all played a role in setting me up for an improved 2017 and beyond.

Hopefully one of these resources can help you.

Deep Work by Cal Newport

On January 5, 2016, I purchased Deep Work by Cal Newport. I read his blog and I like his take on working efficiently in a distracted world. This book helped me figure out why my previous productivity system was not working. I realized that even though I blocked off time to do work, I did not treat it as sacred. If I said I was going to spend three hours every day writing, sometimes that time would get cut in half because I allowed distractions to enter my blocked time (phone calls, meetings, doing work for other people, etc). As obvious as it is, this book helped me realize that my time is precious. What I also enjoyed most about this book is that Newport not only explains why living a distracted free life will help improve productivity, but he also tells the reader how to implement the principles.


The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth by John C. Maxwell

I love John C. Maxwell. I have read many of his leadership books and I enjoy the simple ways he explains personal growth concepts. This particular book, I listened to via the audiobook version, which is read by Maxwell.  I felt like he was talking to me and I was getting a pep talk on life. Like Newport’s book, the information in Maxwell’s book provided me with some key insights that were useful for me to improve my productivity system and personal growth plan.


Asian Efficiency Blog

I have no idea how I found Asian Efficiency, which is a productivity and time management blog. I think I was searching on Google on how to organize tasks and I stumbled upon an article on filing systems. Where Newport and Maxwell’s writings provided me with insights on how I could improve, the Asian Efficiency blog pointed me to the tools I could use. In a future blog post, I will talk about my system that I have developed over the last month based on information I found on that blog.


Entrepreneurs Go All In – Behavior Gap Radio hosted by Carl Richards

2015 and 2016 were podcast years for me. I have always listened to audiobooks and podcasts, but 2015/2016 I started listening even more. There are many great podcasts out there, but one episode that I listened to a few weeks ago stood out to me. Earlier in 2016, I found Carl’s podcast because I read his finance column in the NY Times. This particular four-minute episode was about entrepreneurs and how they go all in when it comes to putting capital into their business. They go all in because they believe their business will give them the best return on investment in the long run compared with investing or saving in other areas. Though this episode had nothing to do about productivity, I really liked the message of return on investment. Now, before I commit to something, I think to myself, “will this give me the best return on investment in terms of my short and long-term goals?” This has helped me do a better job with saying no to others and even to myself.


How Great Leaders Inspire Action presented by Simon Sinek

This 18 minute video is about leadership and business, but I feel the underlying theme of “start with why” is applicable in all situations. After watching this video, I took a step back and reflected on what is my why. Why do I do what I do in terms of career, my blog, etc. This video is what prompted me to rewrite my about page (what do you think?).


The #AskGaryVee Show

I discovered Gary Vee in 2016 and I just love his bluntness and energy. I started watching his YouTube videos and I love all the advice he gives on entrepreneurship. I can’t decide on which video I was inspired by the most, but overall, I just like his entire philosophy about putting in the work to achieve goals. After I watch his videos, I feel even more inspire to work towards my goals.


Do you often find yourself distracted or procrastinating? Why do you think you do so? What resources or tools have helped you become more efficient and productive? Share your thoughts in the comments section.



Photo Credit: Ayo Otake

How do you overcome being your worst critic?

Last year my aunt told me something that stuck with me for a long time: “Lisa, I’m so proud of you and all your accomplishments, but you need to stop being so critical of yourself. Realize you are a very talented person.”

I thought about that comment for a long time. She may have said it passing, but to me it went deeper. I’ve always been hard on myself. I wouldn’t call myself a perfectionist, but I set the bar very high, which can be a positive and negative trait.

It is a positive trait because I am always pushing myself to accomplish new goals and learn new things, but it is a negative trait because when things don’t go my way, I get upset.

I am secretly (well my secret is out) a very sensitive person. I hate not being good at something. Especially when I work hard and still don’t see results. And when I don’t see results, I beat myself up. I mull over the situation and literally drive myself into a bad mood, even to tears.

For the most part being my worst critic has worked for me because I push myself to success, but on the flip side it takes a toll. When I start being critical, I downplay my skills and talents, which is a defense mechanism. A defense mechanism because in case I don’t succeed, I have already set myself up for the bad news.

The last two weeks, I have been working extremely hard in one class and received 87,87,88. To many, that isn’t bad, but to me, that devastated me. If you have been following this blog, you know how hard I have worked to do well in school. Though I really don’t care too much about grades, I do care when I work hard at something and I don’t see the results. That feeling that I am not improving, kills me inside.  Two of the grades were from a PowerPoint presentation and one from a paper. The paper, I didn’t mind too much, I’m in a PhD program, an 88 was more than I had expected, but the Powerpoint presentations, is what is bothering me.

As you guys know from previous posts,  I suffer from extreme stage fright and in the beginning of the semester I was getting high 90s on the PowerPoint presentations, so I felt like I had overcome my public speaking fears. But lately, I been getting very nervous. I think it is because I do not feel confident in the material I am presenting and that is reflected in the grades I have been receiving. Unfortunately because I am my worst critic, I fear that I will keep going down in the scores because I am getting too nervous and being too critical.

It is hard to articulate my feelings, but I do know I need to work on not criticizing myself. Though in the past, being critical has pushed me to work harder and do better. I do feel that it is not a healthy motivational tool.

Giving up is not an option, but I do need to figure out how to overcome being my worst critic.

I know the obvious answer is to work on improving my attitude, but how? How do I undo 28 years of being highly critical of myself?

Any tips?


An urban planning PhD student finding peace in creating a balance between the mind, body, soul, & environment.

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Photo Credit: Jon Jordan 

Why are night owls the black sheep of productivity?

As a night owl,  I’m tired of reading self-help articles that praise early birds as the productivity kings and queens of the universe. What about me and my fellow night owls? We get work done. We produce quality work. We just don’t do it when others are awake and can see us completing tasks.

Earlier this month I saw many of my Facebook friends boasting how productive and successful they were based on the Forbes article, 5 things super successful people do before 8 a.m. I had to check out this list that they all were sharing.  I was curious to know if there was a magical success formula I had not yet discovered?

I made it 11 words in and my eyes were rolling so hard, they almost got stuck. “Rise and shine! Morning time just became your new best friend.”

Unimpressed is an understatement. According to the author, super successful people who get up early are productive because before 8 a.m. they: exercise, map out their day, eat a healthy breakfast, visualize, and make their day top heavy.

Well. I do all that too and I do it before those people wake up, so am I not super successful?

Below are some ways I have also completed that same list before the super successful person wakes up.


I like to exercise at night. Aside from my school gym, all the gyms I have been  a member of have been 24 hour gyms. Sometimes I would go in for midnight madness dance class or I would play pick up basketball at 3 a.m. or take a spin class at 6 a.m. These are all things I would do before I went to bed and before the super successful early riser.

Map out their day

I am planner. As an organized person, I wouldn’t wait until I woke up to plan out my day, I actually do it the night before and often I do it at the beginning of the week. Again, all things done before the super successful early riser.

Eat a healthy breakfast

I like to eat every 4 hours, so the time I wake up or go to sleep does not interfere with the time I eat. If is 6 a.m. and I am getting ready to go to bed, I will eat something light, like an apple, a  green smoothie, or maybe some eggs.


I’m a daydreamer, I’m visualizing all the time. I’m actually visualizing as I type this blog post. You don’t have to wake up before 8 a.m. to visualize.

Make their day top heavy

This is one bullet point in the article I do not do. I actually prefer doing all my easy tasks during the day and doing my hard work at night. I still get my work done, but I do it in reverse.

To me success and productivity is all relative to the person. All the articles I read about success and productivity praised early morning risers and not late night sleepers. So for years, I tried to fight against being a night owl because I thought I was doing something wrong.

Over time I learned not to fight my style of working. I enjoy working at night because the day time is too energetic.

I like to talk and daydream. I get distracted easily. During the day, I cannot focus because there is too much going on. So many people to talk to. So many blogs to read.  So many things to look at.  And to top it all off, nature is so beautiful, I often get lost gazing at trees or animals.

At night, I don’t have people to talk to, nature to look at, or social media updates to read. At night I’m at peace because no one is awake, my best ideas come to me, and I am more likely to finish a difficult task. I’m able to find quiet and use that alone time to focus.

I hope in the future to see articles that focus more on the skills, values,and background that successful people tend to possess instead of focusing on the time the person wakes up or goes to bed.

Are you a night owl or early bird? Do you feel one trumps the other when it comes to success and productivity?


An urban planning PhD student finding peace in creating a balance between the mind, body, soul, & environment.

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