The independent news organization of Duke University

48 hours a day

more percent efficient

“I believe there are 48 hours in a day.” 

This statement alone was enough to turn my head from the screen, where my eyes were lazily half-absorbing a football game, to observe the dark-haired student in the seat to my right. As a staunch believer in the current 24-hour-per-day paradigm, I was skeptical. As a productivity geek, I was intrigued. 

72 hours later, I was interviewing the aforementioned student, Jake Chasan, and we were riffing on productivity, motivation, goal-setting and self-improvement. Since the app store first accepted Jake’s app in 2011, Jake has launched and managed more than 40 websites and has released 15 mobile applications for clients of his personal app and web design company. He is an Eagle Scout, an Oracle Certified Java Programmer, and—since he passed his Series 7 exam last year—a Registered Securities Representative. He codes in nine programming languages—and on top of everything else, is double majoring in Economics and Computer Science. 

I firmly believe that the quality of people's lives and their propensity for taking successful action are directly proportional to the quality of the people in their inner circle. Something we often don’t realize or appreciate is that the miniature ecosystem in which we live is overflowing with successful individuals. People you walk past, who may appear to you merely as faces in the crowd, are already eminent entrepreneurs, scientists, writers and researchers. Jake is a prime example of this phenomenon. 

Talking with Jake emphasized that there is so much to learn from the people around you, whether in terms of academic knowledge or actionable habits that can change how you work, live and think. You just have to learn to connect and to listen. 

“I get a good night of sleep,” Jake said when I asked about some of the things he does every day. “All-nighters don’t work for me.” Jake is a firm believer in getting eight hours per night whenever possible. “I truly believe,” he explained a couple minutes later, “that if you don’t have a solid night’s sleep your brain is not receptive to absorbing information.” He uses the iOS built-in Bedtime app to make sure he gets his Z’s. As all college students know, balancing academics, extracurriculars and pleasure can often lead to sleep being shunted aside. Jake intentionally prioritizes “charging his internal battery” (as he termed it), as he has found that this skill elevates his effectiveness to the next level. 

On top of quality sleep, Jake does his best to eat well. He told me the story of a car his family purchased to illustrate the purpose of his goal. Upon purchase, the car came with explicit instructions to “not use anything other than high octane fuel,” a guideline that can be frustrating to follow when one is trying to exercise the virtue of thrift. However, after a year of using normal gas in the car, Jake’s parents found that the vehicle was only getting around half the miles-per-gallon advertised online. Instead of taking more drastic measures, Jake suggested they follow the initial mandate regarding fuel quality for six months before trying anything else. Within that time frame, the car was once more providing optimal performance. Giving your body what Jake called “instant soup” foods is a recipe for clogging your own internal engine. On the other hand, filling up with the human equivalent of high octane fuel will keep you running longer, faster and better than the competition. 

One item that Jake returned to frequently was his calendar. For someone juggling a lot of balls, an effective calendar can make life ten times easier to manage. “If you’re going to set a daily goal for yourself,” Jake declared, “the calendar will help you achieve it.” It will also help you to prioritize, a vital skill for any top performer. At a glance, you can see current and future commitments, can avoid double-booking yourself and can gauge the immediacy of any given task. Even more than helping you remember commitments, your calendar helps minimize waste. One example Jake mentioned was empty time between classes, time which all too frequently slips away if he doesn’t plan it in advance. 

If utilizing a well-managed calendar, getting quality sleep and filling up with high octane fuel are all going to improve your performance and productivity, this last strategy will level up your entire game. Jake says that at the end of every day he looks at his to-do list and for each item he failed to complete, he asks, “Why didn’t I do this?” Taking this reflection one step further, he then ponders, “What could I have done to make my day better?” and visualizes as many possible ways as he can conceptualize of how things could have turned out differently. In the book, Smarter Faster Better, New York Times bestselling author Charles Duhigg writes that this type of visualization separates flexible and nimble-thinking top performers from the more rigid and linear-minded average ones. Using your imagination to daily place yourself in different scenarios can prepare you for any eventuality. As Jake Chasan quoted the Scout motto, “You have to be prepared.” 

You can improve your productivity (and probably your quality of life) if you follow the above lifestyle strategies. If you choose not to, though, just remember this: your success is highly dependent on the people around you. In your life at Duke, you are surrounded by people who are motivated, skilled, ambitious and successful, and you can learn so much from them if you are willing to reach out. Most people won’t take that initiative, but learning this fundamental skill can be something that truly separates you from the crowd. 

Jack Dolinar is a Trinity junior. His column, "more percent efficient" runs on alternate Mondays.