Hacking College

Recent alum and author of 12 Ways to Be More Successful reveals his top five hacks for succeeding in college.

Stefano Ganddini is a black-belt life optimizer.

The 2015 USC Viterbi graduate in industrial and systems engineering lives by the ancient Japanese principle of kaizen, or continuous improvement. Whether he’s optimizing a business process by slashing waste, or optimizing his own life by disciplining himself to speed-read, Ganddini is a modern-day samurai who has found his calling helping people systematically do things better.

We tracked him down at Protiviti, a global consulting firm that helps companies solve problems in finance, technology and governance — a job he landed while still a senior — and asked him to share his secrets to succeeding in college and life.

Whether you’re an incoming freshman just getting your feet wet, or a graduate student neck-deep in research, these five simple hacks will help you surf the waves of college life like a real pro.

1. Become a “Lord of Lists.”


Super networkers are great list makers. Create a spreadsheet to keep track of professors, industry professionals, recruiters, guest speakers or anyone you meet that could be a potential door opener in the future. Include their contact information, title and a brief description of your relationship. Consider it like a mini-memoir of first dates. Learn their story. This will be invaluable in case you ever need to reach out to someone in the future. Revisit your “master list” periodically and keep in touch with your contacts. One thing that will amaze you is seeing how people are interconnected.

2. Eliminate procrastination with the two-minute rule.


This little strategy starts from the premise that if you could complete a task in two minutes or less, you should do it now. Think about it. Our daily humdrum is packed sky high with hundreds of little tasks that need our immediate attention. So don’t wait to respond to that email until it festers and grows in your inbox — do it now. That mountain of laundry? Pack it and send it spinning in less than two minutes. A mammoth reading assignment? Read the first page (two-minute rule) and before you know it, you’ve eaten five chapters. The great thing about the two-minute rule is watching the possibilities unfold once you take action and inertia takes over. Newton was dead on when he pointed out that objects at rest tend to stay at rest and objects in motion tend to stay in motion. It’s as true for engineering students as it is for falling apples.

3. Take cold showers.


Not just cold, but freezing cold. As in, knob turned all the way cold. No joke, people have been using cold-water exposure as a form of hydrotherapy since ancient times. While the science behind it was initially misunderstood, the therapeutic benefits are solid. Short-term cold exposure can boost your immunity; increase your energy; decrease stress; relieve depression; improve breathing, body oxygenation and blood circulation; refine hair and skin; and yes — even help weight loss. Exposure to cold can stimulate brown fat — the “good” fat that burns energy and helps keep us warm. A recent study from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney showed that shivering for 10 to 15 minutes has the same effect as exercising on a bicycle for one hour. But don’t ride your bike into your refrigerator just yet. The real reason why you should take cold showers is that to achieve anything great in your life you have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Any time you see someone successful, know that they had to go through a lot of hell to get there. It was Charlie Chaplin who said: “To truly laugh, you must be able to take your pain, and play with it!” That’s where cold showers come in. They’re a great way to build your tolerance for discomfort on a daily basis.

4. Approach anyone with the three-second rule.


Have you ever walked into a room full of strangers, and felt extremely uncomfortable? Maybe even pulled out your phone and pretended to be texting, hoping someone would come up and save you from your awkwardness? We all have.

When it comes to meeting new people, one of our biggest obstacles is building the courage to approach a stranger and strike up a conversation. The three-second rule happens to be the most powerful pickup tool known to man, but is frequently pigeonholed for only that kind of mission. It’s also a great strategy for meeting new people in any context. The rule requires that if you see someone you’re interested in talking to, you have exactly three seconds to swallow your fear, walk up and open your mouth. It’s very simple, but extremely effective. The reason it’s so effective is because if you wait longer than three seconds, you’ll end up overthinking it and let life-changing encounters slip through your fingers. With only three seconds, you don’t have enough time to let anxiety get the best of you.

5. Adopt Warren Buffett’s “Two List” Time Management Strategy


With a net worth of about $73 billion, Warren Buffett is the third richest man in the world, behind only Bill Gates and Carlos Slim Helú, according to Forbes’ 2015 ranking. Given his success, both professionally and philanthropically, there’s no argument that this man knows how to manage his time effectively. What’s his secret? He uses this simple three-step strategy:

Step 1: Write down your top 25 career goals. These can also be goals that you wish to complete on a shorter timeline — like 25 things you wish to accomplish this year, or even this month — so they needn’t be limited to career goals.

Step 2: Review your list and circle your top five goals. Pause right now and do these first two steps before reading step three.

Step 3: You now have two lists: the five things you circled are List A, and the 20 things that you didn’t circle are List B. List B is now your Avoid-At-All-Cost List. No matter what, these things get no attention from you until you’ve succeeded with your top five.

Stefano Ganddini shares these and many other life-changing hacks on his weekly blog, Collegetopia. You can also download a free copy of his book, 12 Ways to Be More Successful at collegetopia.co/ebook.