Therapy beyond yourself.
Use a physical object to help clarify conversations.
Here you’ll find tools that can help you better manage your time, attention, workflow and projects. In the Productivity category, you’ll find the Pillar tool, Getting Things Done (GTD) – a complete methodology for stress-free productivity. There are also tools to help keep distractions at bay and make better decisions. And because being productive often requires us to work effectively with others, there are tools to encourage cooperation and focus in a team setting. Finally, there are tools that help us rest from productivity, because one of the best tools you can apply across all facets of your life is balance. You cannot be productive all the time, you must allow your mind and body to rest and recharge.
In the relationships chapter, you’ll discover multiple tools aimed toward improving communication and opening up channels of understanding. The Pillar tool, Nonviolent Communication (NVC) can help you form, maintain, and repair heart-to-heart authentic connections with others and yourself and get more of everyone’s needs met. The relationship tools apply to group settings, as well as in one-on-one situations in just about any relationship possible. There are also tools that you use to help you express your emotions and be more empathetic to yourself and to others.
In the third section are tools that are useful when you want to get the most out of therapy, in whatever form you receive it, whether your therapy takes place with a professional therapist or counselor, or if you are going the self-help route. These tools also include methods for handling conflict and ways to connect with other people to provide a safe place where everyone can bring their whole selves to a conversation. Also included are methods for dealing with and managing difficult emotions. The Pillar tool, Jordan Peterson’s Twelve Rules for Life are presented here, as they offer some keys for leading a meaningful, authentic life (e.g. Rule 2: Treat yourself like you are someone you are responsible for helping).
The last three chapters include tools for your Body, Mind, and Spirit. The first of them are the Body tools, which are all about our physical health and well-being. We all know eating right and exercising is important, but neither are always easy nor always pleasant or even effective. This collection of tools discusses various ways to properly take care of your body, which includes sports, exercise, diet, supplements, and hacks to make it easier to stick to a particular nutritional plan or eating regimen. There are also tools regarding medical testing and other forms of monitoring your health. As usual, we/I/this book won’t tell you what to do, but rather present various options from which you can pick and choose, tailored to your specific needs. The title of this book, Whatever Works, applies to all of us, including whatever works for you.
The Mind tools will help you remember things you’ve read or heard and people you’ve met. They will empower you to think critically as well as to expand your creativity and openness to new ideas. You will also find tools here to help improve your memory, deal with fear, and get better sleep, which makes you a better thinker and gives you a healthier brain.
The final group of tools falls under the rubric of Spirit. These tools are geared toward exploring the philosophical and spiritual realms. They cover ideas for gaining perspective on suffering and developing a sense of connection to something outside ourselves. There are many tools here related to the Pillar tool Meditation and to developing the ability to remain present, in the now. Finally, there are tools here that explore the illusion of self being separate from all, or nondualism.
I began compiling these tools and techniques a few years ago, but the drive to improve my life began at a young age when I realized the huge benefits that can be gained from optimizing repeated processes. Perhaps it is only natural then, that when I became an adult, I worked as a software engineer—a discipline where I spent a lot of my time systematically creating processes and iteratively improving upon them in order to achieve better business results.
As I developed in my professional career, I held various managerial and entrepreneurial roles where I applied that same concept of iterative improvement while dealing with rapidly changing environments, opportunities, and risks. Productivity Tools became increasingly important to me in order to achieve better business results at work and handle the ever-increasing scope of work I was doing. But I found they were also helpful in my personal life, where being organized and undistracted enabled me to work on my relationships.
I have been in concurrent polyamorous relationships since 2015, which increased the requirements for clear and efficient communication and the ability to emotionally connect with others in a sustainable manner. Because I found it imperative that I work hard on my relationships, I started looking for tools to help improve my ability to be heard as well as hear and understand others.
In 2013, I had a spiritual and emotional awakening as I started having hypomania and depression cycles because of a latent bipolar disorder, only formally diagnosed in 2015. I was happy that my condition had a name and to learn that therapy can be conducive to improving my situation. Over time, I found therapy to be so profoundly helpful, I began searching for tools to improve upon the positive developments I was receiving. Since then, I have explored a variety of techniques in self-development from various teachers and sources looking for tools to complement and get the most out of my therapy sessions.
My spiritual awakening also fueled my desire to learn more in that arena, to try to deepen my spiritual capacity and understand and integrate it into my daily life better. Many of the tools I found for that were also helpful for clearing my mind and clarifying my thoughts. That, in turn, inspired me to find resources to develop even clearer thinking and improve my memory. This new clarity of thinking and purpose also gave me sufficient motivation to put more effort on a long battle I’ve had with cholesterol, triglycerides, and borderline-high blood sugar.
Because I’ve been involved with startups for several years, and coached a few managers and startup CEOs, I had a wide business network that I discovered was interested in the things I’d found helpful. Startup CEOs, mid-level managers, and others would ask for business advice, but many also wanted help dealing with office politics, how to make career choices, and numerous other topics.
I realized I enjoyed helping others and I received great feedback telling me that people truly found what I had to offer was useful. I also realized I could encapsulate the tools and scale my teaching. So I gave a presentation to teach what I’d learned, which at that point was mostly focused on Productivity tools. The event went well, and I proceeded to give this presentation at a few startups (one of them even hung the poster for the Ikigai tool on their front door).
These presentations confirmed that what I’ve learned was, indeed, useful, and that what I have to say is valuable. While the experience as a presenter was interesting, I decided creating a book to make the tools more easily accessible for others.
This book is not meant to be read from cover to cover, but instead, for you to pick and choose among and within the topics, to find a tool or two that might help you today in any area of your life. Occasionally you might pass over a tool thinking it is not something that would work for you now, but then at a different point in your life rediscover it as the exact one you need for that situation. Similarly, you may try a tool for one area of your life now and not get the results you had hoped for but then, on a future day, you could try it again and discover it fits like a glove. In other words, the tools can be used in a flexible manner, according to the situation. So, keep that in mind and give things a second chance if they don’t work the first time. But always remember, at the end, tools can’t replace your wisdom and intuition on when to use which tool, and how to apply it.
And one final note about the tools, do realize they are always evolving over time for everybody. Feel free to tweak them to fit you and allow them to evolve with you. The latest version of the tools is always available at whateverworks.me as an open-source project. You are encouraged to send it any suggestions, feedback, or new tools that you think can work.
Now, if you’re ready, turn the page and learn about the Meta tool.
The complexity of life can create chaotic messes and plenty of stress.
We all have numerous projects and activities going on in our work and personal lives. We have professional, romantic, and familial relationships that require time and attention, and that come with particular obligations and responsibilities. It’s a lot to juggle and manage, and it’s impossible to do all things perfectly all the time, which is why finding ways, that is, tools, to improve and grow in each of those areas, is sometimes necessary if we want to create order from the chaos and ease the stress.
Even when things are going relatively well, most of us can still find ways to optimize something in our lives in some way. Just as the software in our phones and computers are constantly being updated to improve their performance, we too can update ourselves with tools. And when we do, we discover we can be more productive and at ease, whether at work or at play. We learn we can have more satisfying relationships and better mental, emotional, and physical health.
Yet, the plethora of tools available to us can feel as complex as life itself. If you regularly work on self-improvement, you may already know that, as the 90,000+ books listed in Amazon under “self-improvement” shows. As you look for different strategies to make your life less complex, and more streamlined or easier, you discover choosing the most effective tool can be overwhelming and confusing.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
I’ve been curating tools for my personal use for many years and have compiled in this book the ones I favor and have used for many years. I have found them to be more effective than others I’ve tried, and I hope that you will experiment by applying them to your life to optimize whatever area you feel is in need. My meta-goal here is to teach “tool-based thinking,” and encourage you to discover and develop your own set of tools. You are also invited to contribute any tools back to the community at whateverworks.me.
I've designated a few tools as Pillars. They are ones that have impacted me greatly, and that I use on a day-to-day basis. If you are resistant to trying any other tool in this book, I suggest you give one of them a chance. They include:
All the tools are grouped into six different chapters, except for one, the Meta tool. The Meta tool, in short, is about how to think on all the other tools as iterative processes. That is, when you do anything in your life repeatedly, think about how you can optimize that activity for the next time you do it.
After the Meta tool come the rest, broken down into specific chapters. It was challenging to categorize some of the tools because several could be placed in more than one category or chapter. In other instances, some of the tools were loosely related to or connected to others. In those instances, you’ll find a note cross-referencing the location of the other tool.
For each tool, I’ve provided a short summary of what I consider to be the key benefits of learning and applying the tool, as well as the challenges to following through on it. To help you decide whether it’s a tool you can use, you can read the motivation section for the tool to see in what circumstances people would want to use it. After that comes the application, which discusses the methods of practicing this tool or provides examples of how you could put it into practice. Last, if there is a reference to provide more information, it is listed at the end.
All told, there are almost a hundred tools here; this book serves as a compendium. In some cases, whole books have been written about one tool alone and space doesn’t allow me to go into that level of detail. For the easiest tools, the application section gives you enough information to begin using the tool immediately. For more complex tools, the application section presents the method and—if it sounds like a tool that will work for you—you’ll want to do a deep dive into the reference provided to learn how to implement the tool fully. Don’t be scared by the number of tools – you can use this book as a reference and pick and choose the tools that are most applicable to you (more on this later).
The chapters are as follows.
Get present before meals.
Allowing ourselves to be hungry for a time can improve our relationship with food
Brief stretches first thing in the morning to kick-start your day.
Exercise more often.
Whether for diet or exercise, knowing you have to report to someone else how well you’re sticking to your plan will encourage you to stick to it.
Be cognizant of the time you eat.
It is healthy to allow ourselves to be bored periodically; it is not something you need to fix.
There is value in exercising the mind with impossible questions
While working on accepting reality, we should simultaneously have a clear direction that improves the state of the world.
Some people question whether we are all one or separate beings. Nondualism suggests both are correct.
Enlightenment isn’t a goal to pursue, it exists in the present.
Truly enlightened people do not look down on people who are “less spiritual” than they are.
The only one who wants to kill the Ego, is the Ego itself.
Not all spiritual leaders and groups are safe.
Access a source of infinite wisdom and love
Summarize books after reading, in order to better process and remember them.
Skepticism verses awareness.
Ask questions of others.
Ask the same question of yourself again and again.
Satisfy your curiosity.
Every morning, fill a few pages with stream-of-consciousness writing
Use objects and your body as reminders
Send a message after meeting someone.
Spend quiet time together—or alone.
Actively seek your life’s true north
Methods to improve sleep quality.
Discover whether you should believe your fear is real.
Exercise in short, highly intensive spurts.
When regular exercise just isn’t something you want to do, here’s how to get in a good workout.
Arrange your day-to-day life to include exercise
Choose a style of eating that you can continue indefinitely.
Make your diet easy on you.
Purchasing vitamins and other nutrients in pill or liquid form.
Regular lab testing will help you attain and maintain good health.
Helping others know the intensity of your feelings.
Connecting with empathy, from the perspective of understanding the feelings of another, to solve conflicts.
These tools are based on the book by David Deida to help men understand who they are and how to be themselves in a modern world..
Try therapy to help you work through your psychological and emotional issues.
Knowing what you want to achieve in life helps give you direction.
Cultivate appreciation for things in your life.
A way to get in touch with the deeper parts of you.
Asking why can reveal multiple reasons.
Don’t suppress emotions; feel your feelings fully, and find balance.
Act as if your actions have infinite consequences.
Openly discuss your thoughts and feelings about therapy and your therapist with them during sessions.
Therapy is precious, do everything you can to protect that time.
Therapy beyond yourself.
When you need help reaching goals, a coach can be useful.
Helpful content from Jordan Peterson, author of 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote for Chaos.
Practice paying attention to what is happening right now
Extend your awareness practice beyond the cushion
A retreat is when you go away to a place with the intention of spending time in reflection or meditation with other people.
A process of going inside to find your core identities.
Hold yourself accountable to others for solitary tasks or commitments.
If you recognize that something needs to be done, then take responsibility for doing it.
Clear your vision of distractions.
Life is more than just about productivity.
Use apps and checklists to develop new habits.
Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is a compassionate approach to relating to yourself and others, based on feelings and needs.
Nonviolent Communication (NVC), created by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, is an approach to relationships that views feelings and needs as the basic driver of all human behavior. It encourages us to move away from automatic patterns of behavior for getting what we want, and instead to connect first on the level of feelings and needs. Connecting in this way can open us up to new options, and enable us to act in ways that will better meet everyone’s needs, as well as build more harmonious relationships.
The core assumption of NVC is that all humans are driven by the same basic feelings and needs, which come alive within us at different times of our lives. In NVC, needs are universal, often described by a single word, for example, sustenance, freedom, safety, sexual expression, love, rest, space, quiet, and many more. When our needs are fulfilled, we are satisfied and experience pleasant feelings like calm, inspiration, appreciation, confidence, or relief. When a need is unmet, however, we experience unpleasant feelings such as fear, sadness, anger, anxiety, or exhaustion. Instead of suppressing these negative emotions, we can explore them and discover the needs behind them, which gives us an opportunity to attempt to meet them.
Our needs drive our feelings, which in turn drive our behavior. Our feelings push us to choose strategies that we hope will meet our needs, and thus quiet unhappy feelings and bring about pleasant feelings. Usually, this happens at an unconscious level, and we are unaware of both the needs and feelings that drive us. When we get in touch with our feelings and needs and bring them to awareness, we open up to new strategies that can better meet everyone’s needs, or to existing strategies that previously seemed unworkable.
Be aware of your demands and, when appropriate, convert them into requests
Use a physical object to help clarify conversations.
Following a disagreement, independently evaluate what you personally could have done differently.
When addressing sensitive issues, try intensive asynchronous correspondence
Listen with full intent (instead of waiting to speak)
Tell the truth, or at least don’t lie.
If you’re struggling to regulate your emotions, take a break.
A way to free yourself from shame and blame.
Sometimes it’s useful to let awkward silences happen.
When giving advice, do it freely without strings attached.
The Wheel of Consent is a concept created by Betty Martin and is usually discussed in a sexual context, however the principles can be broader and applied to overall communication to create an agreed upon relationship built with consent and boundaries.
Learn to break away from automated habits and gain full control over your actions.
Keep track of all agreements you make, whether written or oral.
A method of remembering everything about a significant person in your life.
Admit when you are feeling emotionally unstable or overwhelmed.
Taking conversation to a new level and making deeper connections with people.
There’s more than one way to have a relationship.
Always consider how you can optimize.
A method for quickly reaching a decision
Hold off on making decisions for as long as it’s useful (but no longer).
Take time to disengage from your electronic devices and other external interruptions, giving your mind a chance to rest or focus.
Working in twenty-five minute segments.
Clarify your thoughts and break large goals into workable pieces by pouring ideas into a mind map.
Agenda documents are open, continuous records of what you want to discuss with others.
The Art of Stress-free Productivity.
The GTD methodology was created by David Allen, and described in his book, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. It’s a system for creating order and clarity in your mind. The GTD process involves dumping all non-essential information out of your brain, then organizing your actions into projects, and systematically executing these projects.
Brainstorming is a way to tackle a problem and then really expand the solution space. It's not a way to immediately find the one perfect solution, but it's a way to explore many different possible solutions
Create a log to record any major decisions you make whether at work or in your personal life.
Be more transparent in your communications, and only opt for privacy if there’s a concrete reason to do so
Take the time to appreciate and celebrate your accomplishments.
Reconnect with the reasons you are doing what you’re doing.