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‘I Will Teach You to Be Rich’ founder shares ‘big win checklist’

Ramit Sethi
Source: Noel Camardo
Ramit Sethi

For Ramit Sethi, hell is getting to 40 or 50 years old and struggling to find time to go to the gym.

So the 34-year-old personal finance guru, New York Times bestselling author of I Will Teach You to Be Rich and self-described obsessive optimizer put his methodical, problem-solving tendencies to work.

The result was a five-point plan he calls the "Big Win Checklist." Sethi's goal for the checklist is to address basic life maintenance, so he could be free to spend his energy on his other more creative and exciting ideas and projects.

In 2004, Sethi launched an online education course business, also called I Will Teach You to Be Rich, starting with personal finance and later expanding into how to get a dream job and how to launch an online business. Today, Sethi has 17 online educational courses, 30,000 paying customers and over 600,000 email subscribers. For his students, Sethi is a hero, an example of entrepreneurial success.

The key to Sethi's five-point "Big Win Checklist" is to find a solution, make a decision and implement the process. Ideally, users will commit and won't ever go back and start dithering again.

"I wanted to build a life where I make a decision and I move on," said Sethi, speaking at his first large-scale live experience, Forefront, held earlier this month in New York City.

While your personal "Big Win Checklist" might be slightly different from Sethi's, the key is to streamline the messy parts of your life, make decisions about how you will handle each challenge and then stick to your plan.

1. Personal finances

"Life is really hard if you don't have your personal finances optimized," said Sethi. "I don't think money should be a highly emotional topic. There are so many other things I want to spend my energy on."

2. Job

Sethi wanted to be sure he had a job he loves. After all, "I spend most of my time working," he said.

3. Important relationships

Sethi decided to aim to spend five hours a week devoted to the important relationships in his life. "I chose that because five hours a week, I have to do a little bit of work. I can't sit around and wait. I have to do a little bit of proactive work," he said. While he doesn't always spend five hours improving and nurturing the important relationships in his life, that's his goal.

4. Eating

"This took me a long time and only recently did I sort of crack the code," said Sethi. His goal is to eat well 80 percent of the time.

5. Working out

Sethi's goal is to exercise three times a week.

Ramit Sethi
Source: Ryan Collerd
Ramit Sethi

Overall: Let 'good enough' actually be good enough

The key for Sethi to successfully implement his five-point "Big Win Checklist" was realizing that he would have to accept "good enough" in order to move on.

"I am a born optimizer, so I am always trying to optimize stuff," Sethi said. The pursuit of the perfect gets to a point where it's fruitless and, quite literally, costing you sleep.

At 2:30 one morning, when he was building a Google spreadsheet comparing the rewards credit cards with 45 tabs open, Sethi realized that he was agonizing over about $500 a year in potential savings.

"I wanted to build a life where I make a decision and I move on." -Ramit Sethi, New York Times bestselling author of I Will Teach You To Be Rich

"If you do your diligence, could you improve it by 3 percent? Yeah, I am sure you could," said Sethi. But "there is a law of diminishing returns."

Part of accepting "good enough" for Sethi was acknowledging that 98 percent of the time, humans are the same. Some of the building blocks in constructing his best life didn't have to be different from everyone else's. "Sometimes I think we hear the advice of people who say, 'follow your passion,' and think that we have to be passionate about everything. We have to innovate and be different on everything. I don't really think that's true," he said.

The beauty of hammering out a plan for the mundane aspects of being human and accepting "good enough" solutions to basic problems, said Sethi, is that you are then freed up to think big and be creative.