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How I Overcome The Busy Trap

Expert Tips to Build Muscle

We all seek to look busy in the eyes of our peers. 

We tend to define success as how much work we get done, how long our work days are, and how much money we make. 

I’m not sure I agree on any of these definitions of success, but they’ve all played into my opinion of a successful day, month, or year at some point.

Unfortunately, this causes a huge issue: without a clear definition of success, we never fully define, limit, and achieve what we want.

At times in the past year, I’ve felt out of control. My time wasn’t my own. I committed to too many obligations,  and honestly, had a pretty shitty work/life balance. Most times, I hid this and put out a front that everything is perfect and I’m kicking life in the face. 

Sometimes that’s the case, but like anyone else, I battle day to day. Over the past few months, I’ve been able to regain control, and make my time more my own, and get more high-quality work done in less time. 

I’m not superhuman. I don’t have any “big” secrets. Yet every time I have an article published, I get a message along the lines of….

“How can you coach, run your business, and find time to write? There’s not enough time in my day!”

I feel for you. Honestly, I have a tendency to bite off more than I can chew and like I mentioned, occasionally feel like I’m drowning under a never-ending flow of “vital” tasks. 

As a result, I trim my sleep to five hours per night, self-medicate with 5 cups of coffee today with a few Alpha Brain and go to work.

I’ll skip events with friends because “ I don’t have time,” when in reality, I’m not making time for what’s important.

I’ll stay on my phone at dinner checking social media, rather than talking with my wife.

Superhuman, right?

Yeah, far from it.

I face the same struggles as everyone else. But I do know this:
If everything is important then nothing is important. You must focus relentlessly on the most important tasks.

A few months ago I hit a breaking point. Instead of going full-fledged Edward Norton in Fight Club I found two solutions: The short list, and time blocks.

The Short List

For me, it all begins with creating short-lists. These tasks are vital in importance to my personal and business development. Three is the magic number, as anything else makes completing the day damn-near impossible.

Your short-list can’t just be any meaningless task that you think will work. They need to be meaningful tasks that overwhelm you with joy to scribble off your list each day.

For me, these tasks help me define a successful day and give me an “oh so gratifying” sense of accomplishment. I know exactly why I do these things every day and how they improve my life.

On the backend, completing them allows me to relax and enjoy the ride, rather than scrutinizing my every move on the back-end.

How to Make your Short List

To create your own short list you must first define what’s important to you. Second, select the small habits that when completely consistently over time, will reflect on your goals and aspirations. Third, pick 2-4 habits and begin implementing them one at a time in short 5-10 minute blocks.

  • Keep them short and defined by time; otherwise, you’ll never have an end point that leads to accomplishment.
  • Small lists and knocking them out consistently turns shit into sparkles, or a bad day into a satisfying, productive one.

Daily short lists ensure your essential habits and tasks get completed.

Start small with important tasks and get them done early—you’ll win the day and in most cases, accomplish much more than you thought you would.

More importantly, you’ll take actions that reflect your goals, prevent self-loathing, and realize that you are taking the steps to kick ass every day.

Set Time Blocks

Time blocks are essential to keeping focusing and staying on task. Without time blocks…

  • You won’t focus on your important tasks, like writing a blog post, reading, researching, testing new theories, or developing a long-term project. 
  • Working non-stop without rest is a sure-fire way to burn out, no matter your career or goal. I see it with my clients in corporate America as often as I do with other coaches. 
  • Without setting limits and focusing on the essential, you won’t have a social life. If you’re not enjoying the journey and fruits of your labor,  what are you working so hard for? 
  • Your relationships will suffer and you’ll push close friends, family, and significant others away. 
  • Workouts…what workouts? 
  • The quality of your work will suffer. Quality will always trump quantity.

Pick and stick to preplanned times for work, training, and relaxing to maximize your concentration and effort.

Use time blocks.

Starting off as a personal trainer I took every single session possible.

5 a.m. Monday? Count on it.

Sunday evening? Sure.
Whatever hours it took to build my experience and clientele, I was in.

I wouldn’t be the coach I am now if I didn’t grind my ass off. It should be no surprise that burnout in personal training (and sticking with your workouts) is a huge problem.

The issue isn’t a lack of skill or motivation. It’s a lack of organization or prioritization.

Without setting specific time blocks the inefficient grinder mindset trickles into every other aspect of your life.

Remember, more isn’t always better; better is better.

Working aimlessly, and doing work for the sake of work to the detriment of focused effort is akin to only using isolation exercises in your workouts. It’s ineffective in the short-term and a waste of time in the long-term.

Setting Time Blocks

The first step in setting up time blocks is to write down all your activities and set actions.

Each week, pick the one to three tasks that will bring you closer to your long-term goals if completed.

Within each day, set 1-3 small sub-tasks that bring you closer to your goal. This serves as your daily short list. 

Don’t just wing it. That’s a bit like walking into the gym without a plan, and haphazardly throwing together a handful of curls, calf raises, and kegels.

Sure, you’re getting shit done, but you’re not improving performance.

If you’re like me there are certain times of day you function best for creative tasks and training. Other times are more suitable for unwinding and realizing.

Often, I train clients at 5:30, 6:30, 7:30, and 8:30 in the morning. Then, I’ll take a break from training clients until noon or 1:00 PM.  I use the late morning hours to focus on my own training or writing.

Here’s an example of what a day might look like:

Wake-Up, Meditate, Read:  5:00 AM – 6:30 AM
Train Clients 6:30 AM- 9:30 AM
Workout: 9:30-10:30 AM
Writing/ Business Planning: 11:00 a.m.- 2:00 PM                                                                                        Train Clients 3:00 PM- 6:30 PM

Within individual blocks, it’s easy to set-up further small blocks if you really need to maximize productivity.

For example, within a one-hour workout:

Warm-up: 6 minutes

Jumps and throws: 6 minutes (Box Jump 3×5, plank 3×60 seconds, 60 sec. rest)

Pure Strength Work: 15 minutes (deadlifts, 4×4 with 120 seconds)

Auxiliary Work: 15 minutes (Bulgarian split squats 3×8, one arm row 3×8)

Or during my writing block:

“Brain Dump” as much information as possible on your topic: 15 Minutes

Write potential headlines: 5 minutes

Create my story: 15 minutes

Explain benefits of a solution to a problem: 15-30 minutes.

Anything under an hour is pretty much useless to get real intense work done. I’m a spaz and end up watching LOL Catz unless I know I will make significant progress, and that means I need a big time block and singular focus.  I can’t just flip my brain from the overdrive of coaching to the quiet analysis required for writing at a moment’s notice.

Using time blocks give you a clear and focused work frame, a definitive starting and end point.  You’ll maximize your efficiency, bringing you more real success. And you’ll create free time to spend doing whatever it is you enjoy doing.

You’ll supercharge productivity and manage your sanity. It will become clear to others you are in high demand, driving up your value.

That’s what I call real success.

Final Thoughts:

None of us are perfect, and we all battle to achieve our goals, dreams, and aspirations. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and out of control unless we take action to overcome the busy trap. Setting time blocks and using a daily short list has made a huge difference in my productivity, sanity, and relationships, and I know they can help you. 

BONUS: Other Helpful Tools and  Applications to Overcome the Busy Trap

 Discipline: No tool in the world will do all the hard work for you. At the end of the day, you need the ability to put away your crackberry, log-off bookface, and get important shit done.

Eg.g. Timer: This little gadget is actually a website that allows you to set a stop-clock at whatever time you need. I use the Eg.g. timer with most of my writing to stay on task.

Google Calendars: Google calendars easily sync between your phone, laptop, and allow you to plan meetings via email and have them directly imputed into your calendar.

Rescue Time: Rescue time is some wicked awesome software that helps you understand your daily habits so you can focus and be more productive. What gets measured matters, Having a tangible summary of how efficiently you’re working each week,  is huge in making better decisions with your time.

Self Control: This is my secret weapon. The self-control app lets me block certain websites—a rapidly growing list—from being accessible for a pre-determined time. As far as I’ve tried, there’s nothing you can do to get on the websites until the timer expires.

Related Reading: The Ultimate Method to Avoid Negativity and Consistently Succeed


Part 3 Training Essentialism: Eliminate Useless Exercises

In today’s post we”ll work together to Eliminate Useless Exercises to optimize your training. Before we dive into that lets rehash what we covered in the past two posts.

First, we covered the essential pieces what every workout needs. The 80/20 if you will, that give you the most bang for your buck. Training for one goal while ensuring progressive overload in the major movements is key to long-term results. If you haven’t read part one What Every Workout Needs please do so now.

In part two we addressed the biggest issue of all: training consistency. A plan is only as good as it’s execution. To set yourself up for success you must understand your limits and create a plan that accounts for your goals and busy lifestyle. Your training isn’t 100% perfect for your goal, but a program performed with focus and intensity consistently will beat the perfect program performed sporadically every time.

Moving on my friends. It’s time to delve into the truth about elimination. I don’t mean throwing away all your clothes, getting rid of your possessions, and moving to a shack in Guam, but eliminating unnecessary barriers in training. The biggest problem most guys have is focusing on too many damn goals at once. You have a limited attention. Remember this: You can do anything, but not everything.

Limited Attention:

Throughout the day you have a limited attention. Despite all the advances in technology that make information easily attainable it’s only possible to absorb so much. As an example, Tim Ferris breaks it down into attention units.

The choice-minimal lifestyle becomes an attractive tool when we consider two truths:

1) Considering options costs attention that then can’t be spent on action or present-state awareness.

2) Attention is necessary for not only productivity but appreciation.


Too many choices = less or no productivity

Too many choices = less or no appreciation

Too many choices = sense of overwhelm

Tim Ferriss breaks attention down to “Attention units.”

If you start the day with 10 attention units, have a complicated workout with percentages, a choice of six squat variations, fluctuating volume, and advanced methods it might demand 3/10 daily units calculate and complete. If work, family obligations, and a big side project take up 9 attention units before you get to your workout we have a problem— attention debt. Focus diminishes, effort dwindles, and your workout sucks.

It’s safe to say, after a grueling day even a Tracy Anderson workout is a strain for your mental capacity.

Side note: What in the actual hell is this exercise?

Photocredit: www.lookgreatnaked.com/blog/stay-away-from-the-pink-dumbbells/

Don’t Strive For Exercise Variety

Don’t strive for variation—and thus increase option consideration—when it’s not needed. Too many choices zaps your focus and negate your ability to put into energy into what matters most like building strength in major, multi-joint lifts. You should enjoy exercise, but remember exercise is a results-driven with task, not solely enjoyment driven. Your goal is to create a physiological response in the body to build muscle, shred fat, and improve athleticism. Stick with the major movement patterns, get stronger, and get a routine that works around your limited time.

Define, identify, and eliminate

Instead of giving up altogether you must first define what is essential to your goal. The next step is ruthlessly hacking away at the unessential. A plan is only as good as its execution—this is the way to set yourself up for success.

In this post I’m going to provide you with the path to stick to your goal, hack away at the unessential, and optimize your workout plans for optimal effort and consistency. I’ll use real-world examples from my clients to give you a template to hack away your workout and focus on the important parts. As a result, you’ll have a clear vision of the goal and the brainpower to do it.

Remove the Unessential:

Before hacking away chunks of your workout you must first define what is essential. These steps help you define what’s essential to your goal, and what must be eliminated.

1.) Define Your Goal and Stick to It

If you don’t know what you’re trying to achieve how will you possibly make the changes to make it happen?

It won’t happen. Define your goal, and as Dan John says “ The goal is to keep the goal, the goal.” If you constantly change workout goals and never see them through you’ll never have success. Rep schemes, exercises, and programs shouldn’t always change—the body needs to strain and adapt to stress to grow. Patience, dedication, and time are required. It’s painfully difficult in today’s “everything right now” world, but all true accomplishments take time. Define your goal and stick to it until it’s complete.

Example Goals:

“ I want to look awesome naked by losing fat and gaining muscle. I want to look better than guys 20 years younger than me and be able to play sports with my kids.”

“ I want to be strong. I don’t care what else. I want to be able to lift a fricken’ house.”

“I want to gain muscle so I (begrudgingly) fill out my schmedium t-shirt and have to buy a large. This will be 2-3 inches on my chest and – or so.”  

2.) Identify Your Obstacles To Reaching The Goal

Here’s the fun part: Take an introspective look at your training and lifestyle to see what factors hinder you from reaching your goal.

Take these examples from my clients:

“I work 60 hours per week and start missing gym sessions after I start training 5 days per week.”

“ I can’t eat enough calories following an intermittent fasting diet to support training and muscle growth.”

“ My kids are in hockey season, I run my own business, and I need for time for my family. I’ll train 30 minutes 4-5 days per week, but can’t do longer workouts. The sacrifice isn’t worth neglecting my family.”

Identify in order to eliminate. Look at the big picture and your whole lifestyle.What obstacles are the biggest roadblock to my success?

Are they removable?

Do they fix more than one problem?

If the answer is “yes” to any or all of these problems then take the next step to elimination.

3.) Remove the Obstacles

Identifying and being aware of what’s holding you back is great, but you need to take action on and remove your obstacles. As the father of the light-bulb (and maybe light sabers?) Thomas Edison said, ” Knowledge without action is meaningless.”

No-one will do this step for you—it takes real willpower to remove obstacles. That’s why building an awesome body is more than physical—it’s mental growth, sacrifice, and determination.

Obstacles you remove/ changes you could make to fit the goals above could be:

– One less training day per week

– Take out isolation work

– Reduced rest periods

– Shorten up your fasting window to get more calories

– Decrease training volume during workouts to allow a greater training frequency

Changes highly dependent on you and your goals. Using an example below I illustrate the entire process of hacking away the unessential with one of my online training clients:

Tom: Hey Eric, I need to reduce my training and switch to mornings. Tom JR. has hockey every night during the week, work is insane, and I need to spend my nights with my wife instead of the gym.

I still want to be a shredded Beast (*goal*), but I need more time for my family. (*Obstacle*)

Here’s how we *Removed the Obstacles*:

We shortened all Tom’s workouts and took out anything that appeared redundant. Tom still wanted to workout for 30 minutes each morning in his basement and only wanted the essentials. Each week we made sure Tom had the following movements:

– Weighted Carries

– Upper Body Pull

– Upper Body Push

– Lower Body Squat pattern

– Lower Body Hinge pattern

– Single Leg movement

– High-Intensity Intervals,Versa Climber

So a sample workout could be:

Dynamic Warm Up (Top-secret recipe)

1a. Weighted Chin Up 5×8

1b. One Arm Push-Up 5×8

2. 5x 30 sec (30 sec rest) Versa Climber SprintO


Dynamic Warm-Up

1a. Kettlebell Floor Press 4×12

1b. Goblet Squat 4×12

2a. Kettlebell Swing 3×20

2b. Farmers walk 3×50 steps

Spread out over the course of 5 days Tom gets in five efficient, challenging workouts without missing any major movements. Plus, he’s able to see his son play hockey, spend time with his wife, and relax. In the end training is about more than building an awesome body, it’s about building an awesome body and hitting your goals on your terms. Training should improve your life, rather than consume it.

Now it’s Your Turn:

Embrace essentialism into your workouts and eliminate all that is unnecessary. It’s a subtle way to produce dramatic results in the gym with less overwhelm.

-Focus on the big movements

-Ensure progressive overload

-Schedule your training when it fits your life. Make it a priority, but don’t sacrifice everything else for your gains.

-Remove unnecessary exercises

Define your goal, identify the obstacles, and ruthlessly remove them.

The biggest mistake most guys make is focusing on every finite details of their program. Keep your eye on the prize, remove anything that isn’t essential, and see the best gains of your life.

“Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either. It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.”-Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less


McKeown, Greg. “Subtract.” Essentialism. New York: Crown Business, 2014. 190-191. Print.

Ferriss, Tim. “The Choice-Minimal Lifestyle: 6 Formulas for More Output and Less Overwhelm.” Fourhourworkweek.com. 6 Feb. 2008. Web. 17 Oct. 2014.

Recommended Reading:

The Power of Less by Leo Babauta

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

80/20 Pareto’s Principle

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