The Happy Engineer Podcast

097: Why Happy People are More Productive with Thanh Pham | CEO at Asian Efficiency

In this episode, we debunk the myth that being productive means grinding it out and feeling like work. In fact, my guest today believes that happy engineers are the most productive engineers!

Meet Thanh Pham, the founder of Asian Efficiency, a productivity training company, where they help people become more productive at work and in life.

He started Asian Efficiency in 2011 and has helped over 16,000 clients. The Asian Efficiency blog attracts over 1 million readers annually, and their podcast “The Productivity Show” is the #1 productivity podcast in the world with over 12 million downloads.

You are going to discover the 3 elements of Thanh’s 25x Productivity System that you can leverage in your career right now. Plus, this holistic approach will help you in relationships, health, and your happiness outside of work as well.

Thanh’s brilliance in productivity, efficiency and time management has been featured in Forbes, Fast Company, and Inc magazines, and he gives keynotes across the world.

Join us in a live webinar for deeper training, career Q&A, and FREE stuff!  HAPPY HOUR! Live with Zach

Get access to bonus content and live coaching as growth-minded leaders build careers together. Join our Facebook Group


The Happy Engineer Podcast




Previous Episode 096: From Hate to Happiness with Dr. Benjamin Ritter | 3 Keys to Engineering Career Fulfillment




We can’t talk about productivity and not leave you with some very actionable tips to increase your productivity right now without having to change everything about your calendar and all the technology and tools and apps that you use.

Simple ways to increase productivity right now. 

Number one, use a timer. 

This is an old school approach, but it really works and it relates back to this idea of energy that Thanh and I talked about in the podcast today, and energy management being one of the key elements of productivity in the Lifestyle Engineering blueprint system as well.

Timers are super helpful because they trigger us subconsciously that there is a limit to when we must be complete on the work. And it elevates the intensity and the focus because I only have 17 minutes to work on this.

And even though it’s an arbitrary thing that we set up for ourselves, that slight edge of gamification on our work.

I want you to pick an amount of time that you’re gonna dedicate full focus before you’re allowed to get up from the chair, walk away from the desk, go get water, go get coffee, or anything.

You’re committing to full focus for that full amount of time. So be mindful. Don’t set up. Four hour timer. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about maybe 17 minutes or 27 minutes or 30 minutes. 

If you’re not the kind of person who’s really practiced at deep work, then start small. You have 13 minutes, 17 minutes. You’ll find that that’s still a long time. 

Set it for 17 minutes and tell yourself, I am gonna get as many emails done in 17 minutes as possible. 

Then I’ll come back and decide, am I going to do more email or move on to another task?

That’s simple. Set the timer and then go race yourself. 

Number two, first things first.

It’s really important that you keep, first things first. 

What do I mean by that? So often we have our priorities. But we let our calendar get filled by all of the default. Recurring things that just happen every week. This could be weekly recurring meetings for projects that you’re a part of.

This could be habits and behaviors of your own, that you always take out the trash at a certain time. You always watch a certain TV show. You always, you know, go to the gym. There’s these different things, right? Well, some of those are good, some of them may not be. The spirit of productivity is putting the first things first where you allocate your time and energy to the top priority before you do anything else.

So the difference is this. Imagine looking at your calendar with all of your week already scattered with meetings and things you’re going to be doing when you sit down on Monday morning. 

The whole week’s already loaded with meetings. That’s true for most people. I know when you sit down at your desk Monday morning, you already have 80% or more of your week allocated to meetings, and then you look and say, oh, well what are my priorities for the week?

And you try to fit those in around all the blocks of everything else. Imagine instead if you sat down Monday morning to a blank calendar and you asked yourself, what are my priorities? 

What are the things I need to get done? And the first thing you did was allocate the time and the energy that you would need to get those done on your calendar first before anything else happened.

Then you came back and put in all the rest of the meetings. How different would that be?

Go ask yourself that question and make sure that you’re giving the first important priorities, the first in importance, time and energy on your calendar.

Related to this is the conflict that I see where people focus on what they need to stop doing as their mode to create productivity.

And believe me, a stop doing list is very important. 

We can talk about that another day. 

The key is putting in first things first, because if you pull something out but you haven’t made an intentional decision of what you’re going to put in, nature hates a vacuum, and that space that you’ve carved out of stopping one activity that felt like it was not productive for.

Well, good job. You stopped doing something, but what did you do instead? You just filled in that time with more of something else. That’s also not your top priority, so don’t let that happen. 

The best way to become productive is to imagine that you’re starting with this blank slate and filling in the highest priorities first.

This is that old adage of the rocks before the pebbles, before the sand, before the water. All right. Take those two things and ask yourself, how can I apply it this week to become more productive? 

Now, in case you’re wondering, does this really work? Is there benefit to all of this productivity stuff, or are people just grinding themselves into the ground and creating burnout?

This is one of the common complaints I hear when I talk to engineering leaders is, Zach, all this talk about productivity. 

I’m already working so hard, I don’t need to be more productive. I need less on my plate. 

Right. Being more productive isn’t gonna change the fact that my to-do list is a mile long.

If you don’t believe in the power of productivity to overcome that. 

Listen to what Matt Seay said. Matt was one of my past clients, and this is reading right off of a recommendation quote that he left on LinkedIn so you could go out to my profile and read this for yourself. But here’s what Matt said first.

He said Zach is one of the best coaches around period. 

Matt, thank you for that. I appreciate it. But then he went on to say, through Zach’s programs, I’ve been able to get promoted, launch a business on the side, land a new job, which was another promotion, and be a better partner to my wife because I was able to do all of that without getting burned out.

For those who are interested in the numbers, that’s two promotions and a $50,000 increase in salary in less than a year. To say that I’ve ROI’ed on my investment in Zach’s programs would be a massive understatement. I’m so thankful to have Zach as a coach and mentor. 

Here’s what I love about this, Matt is showing you this idea of what Thanh asks us at the end of the interview.

Go after your biggest goal in half the time. Well, Matt came with only one goal, which was to launch that side business and in the same timeframe working together, he also landed two promotions and increased his salary by $50,000 in less than a year. Those are the kinds of outcomes that focusing on lifestyle engineering can create, and that is what we want for you.

So don’t just brush off this productivity conversation, take action, get this implemented into your day-to-day, week to week, quarter to quarter, year to year life right now, and you can experience the same kinds of results that Matt. It’s absolutely possible and I want to see it for you. 

So get out there, crush comfort, create courage, and let’s do this.



Thanh has been featured in Forbes, Fast Company, The Guardian, The Globe & Mail, and many other publications as a thought leader on productivity.

Currently, he is the managing director of Asian Efficiency and co-host of the leading productivity podcast The Productivity Show (over 13 million downloads). Since 2011, he has written over 500 newsletters and blog posts on productivity/efficiency.

He has started multiple businesses including a web dev agency, event production and executive training company.

In his spare time, he is involved in hosting dinner parties around Austin, TX and organizing social events around town.





Please note the full transcript is 90-95% accuracy. Reference the podcast audio to confirm exact quotations.

[00:00:00] Zach White: tan. Welcome to the Happy Engineer Podcast, man. Glad you’re here.

[00:00:03] Thanh Pham: Hey, Zach. Thanks for having me on your show today. Uh, let’s jam today, shall we? 

Expand to Read Full Transcript

[00:00:07] Zach White: No doubt, no doubt. If there was ever a topic that engineers love, its productivity. And before I go all the way into your zone, genius, I actually wanted to share with you something kind of fun as I was preparing for our chat today.

[00:00:21] So you’ve got one of the most amazing podcasts out there, the productivity show. By Asian efficiency, your company. And I was digging through all that content, like there’s so much good stuff here. Where could we begin a chat? And I found an episode from December 7th, 2022 on productivity mindsets. And I was like, oh, this is perfect.

[00:00:40] Cuz mindset is a huge part of what we coach at Oasis of Courage and talk about here on the Happy Engineer Podcast. And I listened to it and sure enough, one of the mindsets was that happy people are productive. And I just wanted to put that out in front of you and ask the question, what is it that makes that true, that happy people are productive people?

[00:01:03] So 

[00:01:03] video1332164232: this 

[00:01:03] Thanh Pham: is an evolution of thought that I had because when I started Asian efficiency in 2011, was still learning about productivity and I was publicly documenting everything. I was learning about time management, efficiency, goal setting. And the basic narrative at that time around productivity was, okay, we can work hard and working longer hours is a formula for success and we have to hustle and bustle.

[00:01:29] Right? And hustling was like the big thing back then. It was a big narrative around that. and there’s a lot of value in working hard, right? Especially as a immigrant myself, like we have this work ethic instilled in us, brand new country and we have to work our way up to the top.

[00:01:44] And one way of doing that is one, by getting educated, but also two by working really hard. And so I, growing up was always instilled that work ethic and you come to a point where working hard is just. a formula for success anymore because there’s only 24 hours in a day and there’s only so many hours we can actually productively work.

[00:02:06] And so for the first five, six years or so of running my company, I instilled this idea that, okay, we can all work harder, but we all, we can also work smarter. Mm-hmm. . And one of the things I was learning along the way was, uh, there’s a great book called 30 Lessons for Living The author interviewed people who were about to die, and he asked them, what’s one life lesson you would like to pass on to the next generation?

[00:02:28] And one of the major themes of the book is that, , our happiness comes from our relationships with people. And so even though I was working really hard and working smart, I wasn’t having great relationships with people around me if I was being really honest with myself. Right. Okay. So for example, I would be working on the weekends.

[00:02:48] I was working hard, long days to build my company and grow it. But it came at the expense of not being around my family during certain holidays, or not even calling my parents at least once a week while I’m on the other side of the country or on the other side of the world, right? even though I was like successful in.

[00:03:06] Many ways, and people would look at me and go, tan is a successful and productive person. It came at the expense of the relationships that I had. And if I was being honest with the relationships with my people in my community, people here in Austin, Texas, where I live, yeah, I might see you Zach, down the street and go, oh, that’s Zach.

[00:03:23] He does coaching and podcasting. But I don’t know Zach as a person. And that book made me realize, wow, like if I wanna live longer and be happier, , I want to make sure that I have close-knit relationships with the people I have around me. So literally the last five, six years or so, I spent most of my time figuring out like how do I build con like deeper, meaningful relationships with people?

[00:03:46] And what I realize is that when we have that in our lives, we tend to be as a byproduct, more productive people as well. So if I look at my own journey, I went from a person who is very technically skilled in many ways, and then also knows how to be productive using. Different mindsets and tools and apps and workflows and yes, and just like overall skillsets.

[00:04:07] And then on top of that, you add somebody who is also very well connected, has a great relationship with their parents, with their siblings, with their community, and as a person overall is very happy. , then you have this formula for success almost of like, you know, being productive at any given point in time without having to sacrifice your health, family, and things that matter to you.

[00:04:29] Yes. Which is kind of the signature thing for us now. And so it was an evolution of thoughts and now when I work with people, I always like to say happy people are productive people. And now I’m trying to optimize people’s lives for happiness. And even though they want to be more productive, the goal 

[00:04:44] To get there is, yes, productivity is a way of a means to an end, but if we focus on the destination first, we can reverse engineer of how to get there. Mm-hmm. . Mm-hmm. . And that’s how that whole evolution came about. 

[00:04:56] Zach White: So you’re speaking my language, Tana, this is so good. But there’s two things you said I would love for you to go a bit deeper on.

[00:05:02] One was the point at which hard work stops working. where did you find that point for yourself and maybe is there a principle there you can extrapolate for all of us? How do we know when just grinding harder and hustling more is no longer going to create the return on that time invested?

[00:05:24] Where is that point? Where was it for you and how do we find that for our. . 

[00:05:29] Thanh Pham: So the way that worked out for me was, uh, I actually dropped outta college to work at this life coaching business in Los Angeles. And uh, for those who dunno, I’m Asian, my parents are Vietnamese and. , I committed Cardinal Sy number one of any Asian kid, which is dropping outta school

[00:05:44] So no. Oh no. Everybody can relate to that. I’m sure your parents aren’t gonna be happy. My definitely weren’t happy, they sacrificed their lives to give me a better opportunity. Like they escaped communism in Vietnam. They were refugees in the Philippines. They immigrated to the melons, started from the bottom.

[00:06:01] and then they gave me the opportunity to study in Los Angeles. And you know, I kind of squandered that by dropping outta school, right? But I had this very unique opportunity to, uh, work on this guy who became my mentor at that time. He was like a big life coach in Los Angeles, you know, a-list clients.

[00:06:18] And so I said, you know what? This is a very unique opportunity. I can always go back to school. Opportunity by never presenting itself ever again. And I said, I’m gonna take this with both hands, and if it doesn’t work out, I can always go back. And his life coaching business was booming. And this was back when, 2008 when the economy tanked and we had that whole crash.

[00:06:38] Right. And I remember, our office was on Sunset Boulevard and it was next to the CNN building. Our parking garage was on the other side of the building, so I, I would park my car every day, walk past the C N N building and on the outside of the building to have all these monitors that show different headlines and different talk shows that we’re hosting.

[00:06:58] And every day I walked by in the morning and in the evening. , I would see all these headlines of, you know, the stock index tanking and stock markets falling and we’re in a recession. Things aren’t looking good. And meanwhile, this company that I was working at was just booming and booming and booming and, uh, I never felt like we were in a recession.

[00:07:16] And so our company was growing really fast. I was barely 19, 20, I was started as an intern then I worked my way up to be a marketing associate and eventually I, I ran the whole marketing department and so this happened within like eight months.

[00:07:30] Wow. Wow. Things were growing really fast. The business were like growing so fast that my workload and demand went up every single week. And so I had to learn to keep up with that. And I was willing to work hard. And, you know, especially when we’re so young, we can sleep three, four hours a night and still be fine.

[00:07:48] Right. And have a drink the night before. And, you know, as we get older, we kind of realize, oh, that’s, that’s not gonna last forever. . Yeah. But I felt invisible. Not there today, invisible at that time. And so I said, okay. It’s gonna work really long and worked long days, and you kind of hit a brick wall at some point where you go, Hey, Yeah, I can only sleep four hours and still get my stuff done, but that is not gonna last forever. Right? And so after a few months, I just started crashing and burning and when we had meetings, . People would call me out and go, tan, how did you miss this detail? Or, how did you miss this action item?

[00:08:21] Or, Hey, why isn’t this done yet? And people started to notice around me I was dropping the ball. And even though I was working 60, 70, 80 hours a week, sometimes there’s only so much that I could do. And so, My boss at that time said, tan, you need to go read this book called Getting Things Done by David L, which is kind of like the Bible of Productivity.

[00:08:41] He was one of the first guys who, yep, wrote a productivity book and many people have heard about it. and he said, tan, I see you’re working really long hours, you’re working hard, but you gotta work smarter because, we’re growing and I need to hire more people. And I g I need you to step up. And I go, okay, duly noted code word for, hey, if you don’t do your job, you’re gonna get fired very ably as soon, right?

[00:09:04] Big time. Yeah. I get. . And so I, I read the book and that, that’s my first foray into productivity and understanding the idea that you can work smarter, not necessarily harder. And so that went down the rabbit hole for me, where I was, attending Tony Robbins workshops, learning about Brian Tracy learning at the classroom from Zig Ziegler, Jim Ron.

[00:09:26] And so you start. get exposed to all these different ideas and realize, okay, with the minimal time that I do have available, right when I was driving to work, I was listening to audiobooks on CDs at that time where I was just listening to whatever I could because I had to make the most out of my time.

[00:09:43] And so I got kind of exposed and there was one exercise I really stood out to me, which was the idea that, You know, Zach, if I asked you what are some most important values in your life or things that you treasure the most, people oftentimes will say stuff like, family, career right? travel.

[00:10:02] And so I kind of did the same exercise and I realized like family’s number one, career seconds and travel is third. And then the second question is, if you look at your calendar and how you spend most of your time, rank them from 1, 2, 3, what happens on there? And so my number one was obviously work.

[00:10:21] because it was working so mm-hmm. so much. And then travel was like non-existent. It didn’t even make the top three. And then the second thing was just, relaxation, like time for myself. but the gist of the, the exercise is that ideally you want your number one value to be also reflected in how you spent your.

[00:10:39] And so when I was looking at that, I said, my number one value is my family, but my number one time activity was actually working. And that’s when I realized I was so out of alignments I was working so much at the expense of what I valued the most, which was family. That’s why I wasn’t at, our Christmas dinners or Thanksgiving dinners or national holidays, in my culture, 

[00:11:02] Lunar New Year is like a big deal. I would skip a lot of those even though family was coming from all over the world because I was working. uh, I kind of realized, hey, things have to change. And ideally I want to align my number one value with my number one time activity, and also how I spent more time with that.

[00:11:20] working smarter just became a bigger priority. And I think for everybody that’s listening to this, we’re all hard workers. We’re all smart. We’re always learning. We’re spending time, money on ongoing education, which is great. , but also don’t forget the bigger picture to go, Hey, what is most important to you?

[00:11:36] And is that reflected in how you spent your time? And if it’s not, yes, what do we have to change so that we feel aligned? Because when things are aligned, you start to notice that life is just so much easier and simpler. Like when you wake up, you kind of know what to do, what to focus on, what to prioritize.

[00:11:52] So when you look at your to-do lists, you go, Hey, I know what’s most important here. Let me prioritize this. . And, every decision you make just moving forward becomes a lot simpler. So that’s, uh, one thing I would always encourage 

[00:12:04] Zach White: people to do. Yeah. And tan. What I like about the story, and I wanna highlight because for engineering leaders who I work with, this comes up all the time.

[00:12:11] There was this arc of, you know, extreme passion around the opportunity and it slowly builds in terms of that energy and effort and time. And, I wanna succeed and I wanna crush it. And next thing you know, you’re already putting in the 60, 70, 80 hour weeks. But things are falling through the cracks and you’re doing more than you’ve ever.

[00:12:33] And things are still going undone. And that’s a source of immense stress for so many engineering leaders where they feel that same tensions, like, how could I possibly do more when I’m already putting in all this time? And one of the things that I share with them is this idea around. , we talk about burnout as the point where you crash.

[00:12:51] It’s like you hit the ground and then totally flame out. Rock bottom. It’s this horrible experience, maybe physical, truly in your body where your body gives up and you, you can’t function. But it begins way further back when you’re burning fuel faster than you’re filling the tank. you know, the burnout starts well before that.

[00:13:10] And I, I hear that in your story. It’s like you had that, those maybe signs. Looking back you could see, okay, this is. I just used the one strategy of time and more effort and more hustle instead of getting smarter. And then you made that shift. the one thing, and it’s related to the point from earlier, I was gonna ask you, and it came up again here around relationships you mentioned around the happy people are productive people, that relationships was big for you.

[00:13:36] And then it came up again, that family was this top value and a a quick exercise to assess alignment around that. . One of the things I hear a lot that’s a challenge for people is, you know, if family’s my number one, I wanna spend time with family, but I have a W2 job, you know, 40 hours a week at least.

[00:13:56] It’s pretty rare in engineering and tech that that’s really what’s happening. You’re probably talking 45, 50 as average. Maybe some would even say more and how would I ever, spend 50 hours a week with my kids, but. My job at Apple or Google or Meta, like those are not compatible things.

[00:14:15] So how would you address the need for prioritizing that top value with the realities or the conflicts that people face in building their 

[00:14:24] Thanh Pham: careers? . this is something I get asked quite often because they, they almost take a two, literally, and that’s kinda like the engineering mind, right?

[00:14:32] Like, we have to solve a problem and we’re given a box of how we’re gonna solve this. And we want to specify to, uh, specific details. And the bigger picture behind all of this is really, are we intentional with our time and. That’s the main focus that we should all be looking at. So yes, we all have to work 40, 50 hours a week to maintain our career and our jobs.

[00:14:56] Right? But also I’d like to think and extrapolate and say, Hey, my vision for life is I’m gonna be living through a hundred years. That’s my big goal. And I want to be able to be mobile and healthy while I’m still 90, 95 to be, be able to get on the plane and go somewhere. Right? . And so instead of thinking about like a a one hour increment or a one week increment, think about your life.

[00:15:18] You living into a hundred years? Mm-hmm. How would you love that? Change your decisions then in terms of how you spend your time? So what that might look like is, and I’m big believer of seasonal things in our lives, so there might be one or two or three or four or five years where you’re working more because you’re building your career, you’re building social capital, you’re building, a lifestyle you’re building.

[00:15:41] Something for you and your family. So it’s the idea that, hey, if you’re willing to spend, you know, more hours at work for the next three to five years to set yourself up for the next 10, 15 years, that’s an roi. That makes sense, right? Yeah. And now we’re being very intentional about, okay, I’m willing to work 40, 50 hours a week because I’m making good income, I’m saving a lot, I’m investing it.

[00:16:03] in the stock market or in real estate or whatever asset classes you are most familiar, and then you set you and your family up for the next 10, 15 years where you can then maybe work fewer hours, right? Or you work 35, 40 hours a week, but then now you have more time to have time off, to spend time and vacations with your family to be more present when you have kids, to be able to drop them off at school and pick them up as well and have that time flexibility.

[00:16:32] So there’s all these different seasons of life and so don’t focus so much on the. Week or two months, but focus on the next like, 50 years of your life because there’s a lot of life that we all have left. Hmm. And that changes your perspective, how you change your decisions around, okay, what am I willing to do now to set myself up for 

[00:16:50] Zach White: later?

[00:16:51] Yeah. I like this. And one thing I’ll tell people, the mantra of the world is that life is short. You know, Yolo, you only live once. Your life is short. You know, don’t miss out. But I like to remind people, life is also long , you have more. Than you think. And statistically speaking, you know, you and I have many years ahead of us.

[00:17:09] It’s not guaranteed, but it’s also very likely that we will have it and let’s enjoy it. So I like that season’s approach. Tana, I want to hear, the genius of productivity from the work you’ve done over 16,000 clients now that you’ve supported in becoming more productive and, and happier as a result.

[00:17:28] 12 million plus downloads of your podcast, so many people being changed by that, and you’re there in Austin crushing it right now, but I don’t wanna brush. What you mentioned a moment ago about your, your story growing up and coming to this place in terms of where you’re at in career and business. would you be willing to tell us a little bit about how your childhood journey and the different challenges of being an immigrant, what was that like and which pieces of that are still with you as a key part of how you serve and think about productivity?

[00:18:04] Thanh Pham: my parents are Vietnamese. My mom and dad, uh, grew up in Vietnam, but what’s funny is they didn’t know each other when they fled the country. So in the eighties, it was still under very communist regime. And so, the government could just literally come to you and take whatever. Is yours and say, Hey, this is your tax, or this is part of the government property.

[00:18:25] Uh, so I remember my mom telling a story of how, my grandfather used to own a gas station and she would come in with a wheelbarrow. and take in all this amount of cash, put it in the wheelbarrow, cover it with a blanket, and then, you know, walk her way home to hide the money. Because if the government came into the gas station, they wouldn’t be able to take all of their money, right?

[00:18:47] Because it’s government property. And so you hear stories like that and you go, wow, that is so insane. That would never happen. Oh my goodness. in America. And so long story short, they had to escape the country to be able to. Pursue a new opportunity in life. And so my mom and dad didn’t know each other, but they were both on different boats to get to the Philippines, which was a neighboring country about, you know, if you go on a boat, it’s like roughly four or five days or so.

[00:19:13] And so they ended up both in a refugee camp in the Philippines, in an island called Pawan. And, they met each other there. They started dating there. They were there for three years, and they even got married inside of a refugee camp and then had me. So the whole life story started inside of a refugee camp there.

[00:19:32] Wow. And when I was about six months old, there’s a picture of me and my mom and my dad, and all we had was a diaper bag, one suitcase and a briefcase with documents, and that’s all we had. And maybe like six, $700 just to start a new life in a new country. That’s 

[00:19:47] Zach White: your, your whole life in that one. 

[00:19:49] Thanh Pham: in that one photo.

[00:19:50] It was, that’s pretty much all we had from starting from day one in a new country. And so, uh, I was, I’m very fortunate to be able to have made something out of myself and, you know, we have some very fortunate circumstances in terms of government support and, uh, just having aid around, starting a new life.

[00:20:09] And so, uh, when I went to school, my mom and dad always instilled in me like, Hey, . One way for us to get outta this situation, to get ahead in life is to be educated. And I want you to do really well in school. So if you talk to any Asian kid, they’ll always tell you, like your parents will say, Hey, become a doctor, a lawyer, or a dentist.

[00:20:28] those are our three career options. You’re gonna be fine. And so I said, okay, that’s what I’m gonna do. I went to school, you know, did the homework, uh, got my grades up. , you have this work ethic of working hard, this is something I would see in my parents as well, right? So for example, I remember when I was going to school, I was maybe like eight, eight or nine years old.

[00:20:49] My mom and dad would cook food in the morning and then prepared for me so that when, when I come home from school that I could heat it up myself. and then eat, before they came home, right? So they would come home at say, five or six, but I would already be home by like three or three 30 or so. And so I would walk home, but I would always wear a necklace with a key on it, which was the key to the house.

[00:21:12] So that way I would never lose any keys because I, I would always wear this necklace . And so, I had to like mature a little bit faster than most kids, I think because of that. So I saw this work ethic just all around. My parents worked on the farm, they were picking apples and strawberries and over time, they started getting office jobs.

[00:21:30] Uh, but they always reminded me like, Hey, you have to work hard and get educated. to learn and grow. Mm-hmm. . And so every weekends when my parents were off, they would take me to the library. And one of my favorite things was reading the encyclopedias of the different parts of the world. So Encyclopedia of the Ocean, encyclopedia of Africa, the encyclopedia of animals, right.

[00:21:49] And I would always re learn and remember these different facts. And it wasn’t until I came across a book called Rich that Poor, that when my mind was just like blown. By this idea that, you know, you could start a business and you don’t have to become a lawyer, dentist or attorney, uh, or a doctor to make something out of yourself.

[00:22:07] And I felt like I was reading like this hidden black book that it was not supposed to read . Lots of it was going against story. Yeah, yeah. It was going against everything I was being told and taught. And so long story short, I started my first business when I was 12, I taught myself how to code from just studying books in the library.

[00:22:25] And, uh, I started a, a web development agency when I was 12 years old. And I remember my mom had to sign off when I was incorporating cuz I was too young, right? Yes. So my mom was yes, uh, the head person of the company and so, I was very fortunate to start a business and became, uh, pretty successful to the point where I had to hire some of my friends from school I was teaching them how to code and then I would hire them to come help me out.


[00:22:48] Thanh Pham: I knew that this was like my way out I was very fortunate in that sense. And, comparing that to today, even though I dropped outta school, I never lost a desire to stop learning. So I was continued to read books, going to workshops and seminars, and even though I didn’t have a formal education, I always kept reading at least 10, 15 books a year, right?

[00:23:07] Mm-hmm. and one simple habit. Mm-hmm. that makes it really easy is if you read 20 pages every single morning or just every day, you end up reading the equivalent of 30 bucks in a year. So everybody can spend 20 minutes. in any given day to read a book. Yeah. Yes. Right. And if you just make that at habits, you’ll actually end up reading about 25 to 30 books in a year.

[00:23:29] And nobody starts a year thi saying, you know what? I’m gonna read 25 or 30 books this year. Like that seems like Mission Impossible. Right? Like two books a month, like that’s absurd. But if you create this small habit of reading 20 pages per day, you end up doing that. And that’s all something that everybody could strive.

[00:23:47] Zach White: So good ta, first of all, thank you for sharing your story. It’s so powerful and I’ll share a little nugget with you that you’ll really appreciate. I agree that a daily reading habit is essential and I love my morning reading time and my wife still jokes with me to this day where. One day she walked in and I had a, a diagram of our apartment on a piece of paper in front of me, and I was using one of the tools from Lean called a spaghetti chart where chart how you’re walking and the paths of the flow of Zach, in this case, my actual morning routine, like how I would move through the apartment.

[00:24:22] And she’s like, what are you doing? I said, well, I’m, I’m seeing if we can rearrange. Wear the coffee and the coffee pot and the different things that I use in the morning in our workspace so that I don’t walk as much and I can save some time in the morning and get a couple more minutes to read. And she’s like, what are you talking about?

[00:24:38] I was like, yeah, well, two minutes or three minutes. That’s three pages a day. And that’s another thousand pages a year. Like I could get in three more books just by moving the coffee pot . And I was so. By that. And, uh, she, she made fun of me, like only an engineer seeking productivity would draw a spaghetti chart of his apartment to move the coffee pot around.

[00:24:57] But, um, anyway. I love that. So let’s u use this as a pivot then. I wanna make sure we share with the happy engineers out there. Something really useful around productivity that you’ve discovered from helping so many people to level up in this area. So where would you say we need to begin? What are the foundational.

[00:25:18] Pillars and pieces of productivity. 

[00:25:21] Thanh Pham: The framework that I teach is what I call the T framework and sends for time, energy, and attention. So those are the three pillars of productivity. So if I’m working with somebody, I’m always looking at the T framework and go, how can I maximize their time? How can I maximize their energy, and how can I maximize their attention?

[00:25:41] And it’s just a simple idea that most people, when they first come to us, they usually lack time in their life. And when you’re lacking time, you feel. overwhelmed. If you’re lacking energy in your life, you oftentimes feel exhausted, right? So there could be where you come home for work and you said you want to do X, Y, and Z, work on a project, work on a site hustle, do some studying for career advancement, but then you just, come home and you’re too tired and nothing ever happens.

[00:26:05] Yep. Right? Yep. And then attention is simply the idea that we want to focus on the goals of projects that matter and make sure that we are working toward. because nothing pains me more than seeing you work on something really hard for many hours, many days, only to realize it was the wrong thing to work on.

[00:26:23] Right? So that’s not how we’re gonna maximize our life. So I wanna make sure that anybody that I work with has all three in check, and especially for engineers and knowledge workers like you and I. Intention is probably the most challenging aspect. And so the question I get often asked is, how do I know I had a productive day?

[00:26:43] Or how do I know that I’m maximizing my day? when you’re doing, for example, coding or any sort of engineering work, the thing is, it’s hard to quantify that in many ways, right? Because if you’re working through a problem, it could take you like a few hours to work through it or mm-hmm. , you have a stroke of genius and all of a sudden you, you solve the issue in two minutes, right?

[00:27:04] So time is not a great metric to measure outcome or results. And so what I’ve discovered is that this is something what I call the daily target. So before you start working, I want you to ask yourself this question, how do I know I had a productive day? And whenever you answer that question, whatever the answer to that is, that’s what I call your daily targets.

[00:27:26] So for example, when I start working, I might say, How do I know I had a productive say? Well, one would be I’ve recorded a podcast with Zach and then two, I’ve made sure to write at least one email newsletter for the Asian efficiency audience. Right? And that could be my definition of success essentially.

[00:27:43] And that is my daily target, because every day is going to be a little bit different. We’re not in the industrial age anymore where we could be held accountable for. Numerical and something so simple, it was like, well, Zach, if you create 10 widgets today in a factory, you had a productive day. Right? And we were oftentimes tasked for one thing, but now most of us, we do a lot of different things.

[00:28:04] And also it’s doing software in our brain, and that’s something that we can’t quantify necessarily. Mm-hmm. . However, what we can’t quantify is outcomes 

[00:28:14] Zach White: for the daily discipline of asking that question, what do you do? The particular project you’re on does not have a logical end point or outcome that you might hit today.

[00:28:29] So you work in research and development, you’re gonna sit for four hours and make as much progress as you can, but there’s no real insight as to where that may end, et cetera. How would you define that or how would you create the success target of a productive day in a situation like that? 

[00:28:45] Thanh Pham: when it comes to, Projects or tasks that are, especially if they take a few weeks or a few months, You almost have to reverse engineer some of the milestones that are in there. So to give you an example, if I wanted to redesign my website, that could be a multi-month project, right? And getting started might be overwhelming cuz there could be a lot of things that could be happening.

[00:29:09] Mm-hmm. , right? So let’s just take that as an example. I can’t do that in one. . But what I can do is think about what are some things that have to be true along the way for us to redesign this whole website? I might say, okay, one of the things I have to do is talk to my designer, I have to figure out what the budget is going to be.

[00:29:27] And I might have to figure out like who to, put on this project as well, if, especially if I’m delegating this project. Mm-hmm. . Mm-hmm. . And so when I’m working on it today, One of the things I will do is I will look at my calendar, go, what is my time availability for today? Because if I am slammed with meetings from nine till three and I leave the office at five, , you know, I also have to eat lunch.

[00:29:51] I have to do X, Y, and Z. There’s some around some other things that have to be done. So today might not actually be a very productive day in that sense because I’m very time committed. So your definition of success for that day or your daily target might be very different to just say, Hey, you know what, one of the milestones that I can do is at least I’ve, set up an appointment with my designer to talk about this project.

[00:30:13] And that could be just like your daily target for that day. Start breaking down. From the end to what your milestones will be along the way. the good thing is you don’t have to know all milestones. You just need to know a few. And if you can know the next step, that’s oftentimes good enough to get started.

[00:30:30] Because yeah, when it comes to redesigning a website, there might be 50 millions. Different tasks that need to be done. However, I know that I need to talk to my designer at some point, so might as well put that in there, make that the first step. And so if you’re feeling stuck, just continue to break it down to smaller chunks until you feel like you know what the next step is.

[00:30:50] Mm-hmm. , because if it’s overwhelming, it just simply means that there’s too much there or it’s too vague and we have to get very specific. And the more specific it is, the easier it is to get. That’s 

[00:31:02] Zach White: good. One thing I say a lot Tan is, there’s two things that are true. The vision of success for the end goal.

[00:31:08] You know, getting crystal clear about what we wanna create and if we don’t know what that is, let’s go create it. But once we have it, that’s truth number one, the North Star. And then the only other thing that’s true is the next step. Everything in between is just a guess anyway, so let’s keep, keep working, for time and energy.

[00:31:24] So I like this question around attention. You know, how do I know I had a productive day? Is there a similar either question or simple action that you encourage all your clients to take first, if they’re feeling overwhelmed with time or exhausted and low on energy, what would be that first move that we take on those two bucket?

[00:31:46] Thanh Pham: So when it comes to time, I wouldn’t say there’s a good question, but there’s a set of skills that we teach. So there’s actually, in fact, we have a course called 25 X Productivity System, and it’s basically my methodology to productivity. it’s similar to like how you have getting things done to agile methods to other ideas that are out there.

[00:32:05] yeah. But what I’ve. that is unique to my system is that it’s a holistic approach to productivity because a lot of people don’t talk about energy. They don’t talk about focus or attention. They just show you the tactics and tools that you need to kinda like mechanically do stuff. Mm-hmm. , but they don’t look at it from a holistic point of view.

[00:32:22] Right. So for example, The reason I bring up energy, and it’s part of my framework, is because you could have all the skills, all the tools, you could be a G T D master, but if you have no energy, nothing will get done. Doesn’t matter, right? Yep. It’s kind of like having a beautiful Ferrari in your garage, and you as a driver might be very competent and skilled and excited, but if there’s no fuel in the tank, guess what?

[00:32:47] That car’s not gonna go anywhere. Likewise, if you and I have no. , we could be, yes, very skilled and productive, but stuff won’t get done. So when it comes to time, one of the things I like to teach is different levels of planning. So I’m thinking about quarterly planning, monthly planning, weekly planning, and daily planning.

[00:33:06] Those are some of the skills that I teach because I’m a big believer that. , if you wanna maximize your time, it’s not necessarily being a calendar ninja necessarily. What’s actually more important is that you are proactive and intentional about how you’re gonna allocate your time, right? Yeah. It’s just kinda like if you’re a wealth manager and you have all this money that you need to figure, figure out to grow, you’re not gonna sit down and wait and just have it, be stored somewhere and just sit back.

[00:33:31] You want to be proactive about how you’re gonna use a resource to con, continue to grow it and use it and transfer it so that it grows and compounds over time. Same thing with our, with our time. We wanna make sure we are proactive about it. So I wanna make sure that you are looking at your goals every single day so that you’re reminded of what’s most important to you, so that when you start tackling the week or tackling the month, or even tackling the day, you know how to prioritize your.

[00:33:58] to-do list. So for example, for you, Zack, let’s just say, you know, you want to grow your coaching business to, let’s just say 10 million a year, right? And that’s like a thing that’s so important to you, if that’s the most important thing. If you look at your to-do lists, then there’s certain things on there that you have to do or that feel important.

[00:34:16] But in reality, there’s only a few things that are most important, right? Yes. So if your to-do list says, I have to record a podcast today, I have to reach out to a few clients. That are prospects. I have to clean out my closet, I have to do my taxes. Like these are all things that might feel important to you, but when your number one focus is to grow your coaching business, then.

[00:34:38] recording a podcast makes sense. It’s for the long-term gain of it, right? reaching out to prospects or clients is something that can help your business. Right now. These are two things that are probably more important than cleaning out your closet. And yes, we have to do our taxes and it’s urgents, but if it’s not due in the next month or so, that can probably wait.

[00:34:58] Because yet you wanna make sure you record your podcast, which is a long-term game first. 

[00:35:02] Zach White: Naturally. I don’t wanna miss this conversation tan. Super important . No, I love that. And all priorities are not created equal, and I think this is a big fallacy that. Engineers deal with is everything tends to stack in our minds as equally important.

[00:35:18] It all needs to get done. Everything is the number one priority, and so I really appreciate what you’re saying there, tan. One thing I also believe is that knowledge is not power. Only the knowledge we implement take action on creates power, and in this case, productivity in our lives. , I want you to tell the happy engineer out there where they can get connected and actually take action on this if they need support in 25.

[00:35:44] Xing their productivity, implementing the T framework, everything that you teach, what’s the first and best step for someone to take to go get, into this world of productivity with you and. 

[00:35:55] Thanh Pham: So the easiest way to get started is by going to our website, asian, and just subscribe to our email newsletter.

[00:36:03] So you’ll get emailed, a free time management guide. We’re gonna also send you some apps and tools, recommendations that we recommend for people. there’s. over five free articles. We’ll, we’ll give you some links to that you can just check out and we will personalize it for you as well, so you can make sure that you’re reading stuff that is most relevant to you.

[00:36:22] And then if you’re loving podcast, we also have a podcast called The Productivity Show. It’s a weekly podcast where we share tips, productivity strategies, and action items for you every single week to make sure that you’re making progress and moving forward in life. Uh, every single Monday when we drop a new.

[00:36:39] Zach White: awesome. And I can’t say enough about the content. I’ve been consuming tons of it in preparation for our chat today and it is fantastic. So keep keep up the great work tan. tell me too, for you, you know, 16,000 plus clients, what are the kinds of results that you get really excited about when you hear somebody who’s going through your program and they’re doing this work?

[00:37:00] You know, what jazzes you up in terms of the kinds of outcomes you’re seeing people. 

[00:37:04] Thanh Pham: one of the success clients that I have is, uh, his name is Scott. He is a, uh, loan officer at a Fortune 500 company and he shot me a text message the other day and he and I have been working on and off for the last few years.

[00:37:18] And, he is been through a few of our programs. and the, the gist of the message was, Hey Tan, I stopped following Asian efficiency in the last year or so and I just become so productive and moved ahead and got promoted multiple times that, you know what, I can kind of focus on other things in life now.

[00:37:35] And, uh, I just wanted to let you know that’s things are working well and I hope I wish you the best with you and your, your business and I’m looking forward to seeing you whenever you come visit me. . that to me was like the ultimate success story. Someone became so productive that they didn’t need us anymore.

[00:37:51] Like they essentially fired us. Yes, yes. From, from being around them. And so that to me is what I would. Want everybody to be right. Just like when you look at the dating apps, there’s an app called Hinge, uh, that’s really popular. And the tagline is this app is meant to be deleted. And I felt like, oh, that’s a great message.

[00:38:09] Yeah. And I feel the same way about us. Like, I want you to be so productive that you have all the skills you need so that you can move on with your life and focus on other things because. . Yes. Productivity is a means to an end, and there’s certain set of skills and tools that will help you get to what you want to accomplish.

[00:38:25] And once you have it in place, it’s kinda like once you learn how to ride a bike, you, it will always be there with you. No matter if you stop riding a bike for 10 years, once you get back on it, you’ll know how to ride it. Same thing with a lot of the skills that we teach. Once you know how to plan your day, how to manage your calendar, how to focus.

[00:38:42] You just need every now and then, just a subtle reminder to go, Hey, this is what I need to do, and then you’re back on 

[00:38:47] Zach White: track. I love that. Working yourself out of a job, Dan. That’s good stuff right there. Well, thank you for your time today, your generosity, sharing about productivity with myself and the happy engineer out there.

[00:39:01] Tan. One thing I believe, and we always finish with this idea on the Happy Engineer Podcast, that questions lead and answers follow, and great engineering, great coaching and becoming productive all has in common. If we want better answers, we need to ask better questions. So coming out of this conversation today, what’s the best question that you would lead the Happy engineer with?

[00:39:26] Thanh Pham: . So I spent a lot of time doing thinking time, which is the idea that I want you to spend at least 30 minutes of week thinking about a question. So I want to encourage you to think about this question I have for you here today, which is what has to be true in order for me to accomplish X, which could be a goal or outcome, and half the time that I think it is possible.

[00:39:49] So what has to be true in order for X to be accomplished in half the time that I think that I have available? So for example, what has to be true in order for me to grow my business 10 x in one year when I think it might take me like two or three years to do. . And if you’re able to answer that question, you’ll start to identify a lot of things that you could be focusing on, milestones that might be there, questions that might come up that you have to answer as subsequent questions.

[00:40:21] Yes. And so if you think about the conditions that have to be true, and not necessarily the action items, but just the conditions that have to be around you in order for this to happen, I think you’d be surprised with what comes up for you. 

[00:40:33] Zach White: I love it. What has to be. To accomplish my biggest goal in half the time that I believe is possible.

[00:40:41] Tan, appreciate your time today. This is amazing. We’re gonna have to do it again. There’s so much more to unpack in productivity. It’s just one of the five P’s of the Lifestyle Engineering Blueprint framework. But just appreciate the depth and the expertise and everything that you bring. Wanna acknowledge again the amazing work you and your team are doing to change lives all around the world in this space?

[00:40:59] And I do encourage everyone out there, go listen to the podcast. Go download. Newsletter and all the resources, some incredible tools provided totally for free, uh, by Asian efficiency and Tan. Thanks again for your time today. It’s been awesome. Thank you for having me.