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23 minutes | Jul 20, 2021
56: Celebrating Milestones
On this episode, we chat about how to properly celebrate the milestones we hit. Topics covered include: How we rarely celebrate our accomplishmentsHow the “Zeigarnik effect” leads us to just move onto the next thingThe milestones we’re celebratingWhat it means to have closure with a projectThe Need for Closure scaleThe Post-Portem ritualOur favorite rewards for finishing stuffCelebration guiltThe right time to celebrate! Links mentioned in this episode: The The Need for Closure Scale, and a link to do the test (PDF)(Chris scored 113, Ardyn scored 135) You can listen (and subscribe) to the podcast below! The post Podcast: How to celebrate your big milestones appeared first on A Life of Productivity.
24 minutes | Jul 6, 2021
55: Roadblocks, Bumps, and Obstacles
On this episode, we chat about obstacles that get in the way of our habits—including the habits we’re in the middle of forming, and the ones we already have. Topics covered include: The payoff of anticipating obstacles ahead of timeSome common obstacles that get in our wayHow to identify the obstacles that’ll get in the way of our specific habitsThe types of obstacles we face: Environmental, time-based, temptations, and situationalThe five cues that trigger habitsMinding our time, attention, and energy Links mentioned in this episode: Book: The Power of HabitMy New Year’s Guidebook You can listen (and subscribe) to the podcast below! The post Podcast: The importance of anticipating obstacles appeared first on A Life of Productivity.
32 minutes | Jun 22, 2021
54: Productivity Habits (Part 2)
On this episode, we count down our all-time favorite productivity habits—this week we cover numbers 5-1! Topics covered include: Keeping a “Waiting For” list—and what to capture on itHow to organize the items you’re waiting on The importance of “scatterfocus”Where ideas come from—and where our mind wanders toHow to recharge, generate ideas, and generate plansThe three types of scatterfocusHow to conduct a weekly reviewHow to determine your most important tasksUnderstanding how much time tasks and projects takeHow to make a daily plan, while including the rule of 3The ways meditation makes us more productive Links mentioned in this episode: Book: HyperfocusAudible Original: How to Train Your MindFocusmate You can listen (and subscribe) to the podcast below! The post Podcast: My favorite productivity habits (part 2) appeared first on A Life of Productivity.
31 minutes | Jun 8, 2021
53: Productivity Habits (Part 1)
On this episode, we count down our all-time favorite productivity habits—this week we cover numbers 10-6! Topics covered include: The point of becoming more productiveHow productivity can make us more humanEarning back time, enjoying the journey, carving out time for what’s meaningfulKeeping an accomplishments listThe “Zeigarnik Effect”How often to review your accomplishmentsEmail/message sprints“Time confetti”The two types of work: focus work vs. collaborative workYour “biological prime time,” and how to calculate itWorking around your energy level fluctuationsTaking only the productivity advice that works for you (and leaving the rest)Keeping a distractions listRemembering to remember thingsShrinking the tasks you find most aversive Links mentioned in this episode: Wikipedia: The Zeigarnik Effect Caveday (for work sprints) Focusmate (for instant accountability)Article: 3 Ways to Calculate Your Peak Energy Time of Day You can listen (and subscribe) to the podcast below! The post Podcast: My favorite productivity habits (part 1) appeared first on A Life of Productivity.
30 minutes | May 25, 2021
52: Organizing Projects
On this episode, we chat about how to organize all of the projects you’re in the middle of, to feel more in control and less overwhelmed by them all. Topics covered include: What a “project” even isThe importance of seeing all of what you have going on in one placeHow to feel in control of your projectsProjects lists—and how to sort themManaging shared projects with a teamCapturing next steps, “waiting for” items, and reference itemsThe (all-important) Weekly Review Links mentioned in this episode: Book: Getting Things DoneArticle: Which of your projects need space, and which need focus? You can listen (and subscribe) to the podcast below! The post Podcast: How to organize your projects appeared first on A Life of Productivity.
24 minutes | May 11, 2021
51: Food Habits
On this episode of the podcast, we chat about how to crowd out bad food habits—as well as how food habits of abundance are far more helpful than habits of deprivation. Topics covered include: Which food habits to eliminate and double down onHow to approach deciding what to eat with an attitude of abundance—not deprivationThe “all or nothing” effect with foodIntroducing dependencies to combat negative habitsOur limited reservoir of willpowerThe Frozen Berry TrainWhat “real food” even is Links mentioned in this episode: Book: How Not to DieBook: How Not to DietBook: Salt Sugar FatBook: HookedBook: The Dorito Effect You can listen (and subscribe) to the podcast below! Enjoy :-) The post Podcast: Some food habits that will help you out appeared first on A Life of Productivity.
36 minutes | Apr 27, 2021
50: Hooked on Salt, Sugar, and Fat
Takeaway:The processed food industry has become incredibly sophisticated in the way it gets us to eat more of what it makes. Estimated Reading Time: 1 minute, 37s. For this week’s podcast episode I sat down with Michael Moss, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Salt Sugar Fat and now, Hooked: Food, Free Will, and How the Food Giants Exploit Our Addictions. Hooked is an incredible book: a deep dive into the processed food industry and a look at how highly-processed food can be even more addictive than hard drugs. My main takeaway from the book is how we shouldn’t see processed food as food: it’s more of a Frankenstein-esque lab creation. Michael illustrates this with the example of pumpkin spice—one of the coziest-feeling flavors I can think of: “In our kitchen cabinets, pumpkin spice is made of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and maybe ginger. Not so in processed food. Its pumpkin spice is simulated through the deployment of as many as eighty elements.” Companies have learned to isolate flavor compounds and add them to our food—without our knowledge or permission—to make what we eat taste like something it’s not. Our latte may taste like pumpkin, but in reality, it’s a cocktail of other ingredients concocted in chemical laboratories. Flavor is the main lever processed food companies use to hook us on their products. According to Michael, the others are: Calories. We have a natural drive to maximize our calorie intake. If two foods taste identical, but one has more calories, that’s the one we’ll choose. Cost. The cheaper something is, the more likely we are to buy it. Variety. We crave variety—and the novelty that comes along with it. That’s why there are so many flavors of Oreos and sparkling water! Convenience. We gravitate towards what saves us time—hence the appeal of ready-to-heat or ready-to-eat meals. In our conversation, linked below, Michael and I dig deeper into the levers processed food companies use to get us to eat more of what they sell. He’s a fascinating interview—and I highly recommend the book as well. The post The 5 things that make processed food addictive appeared first on A Life of Productivity.
27 minutes | Apr 13, 2021
49: The Power of Novelty
On this episode, we chat about the power of novelty—and how this one ingredient influences our perception of time and how meaningful our life feels. Topics covered include: How novelty has affected our perception of time during the pandemicThe ways that novel moments serve as markers in timeOur brain’s “novelty bias”How novelty, surprise, and dopamine work togetherHow novelty can help us build habits and memoriesHow to make your days more novel“Memory sinkholes”Who is the “Chuck Norris” of the podcast You can listen (and subscribe) to the podcast below! The post Podcast: The Power of Novelty appeared first on A Life of Productivity.
29 minutes | Mar 30, 2021
48: A World Without Email
On this episode, I chat with Cal Newport about his fantastic new book, A World Without Email. We chat about: How the cost of email is higher than we realizeThe differences between “asynchronous” and “synchronous” ways of communicating, and why they matterCal’s idea of the “hyperactive hive mind”How email scrambles our thoughts and makes us anxiousHow to identify the parts of our work we can move outside of emailHow Cal manages his own emailKey mindset shifts to make with emailOvercoming the guilt of not checking emailHow to automate email schedulingHow to set up “email office hours” Links mentioned in this episode: Cal’s new book: A World Without EmailCal’s book Deep WorkCal’s New Yorker article, Was E-Mail a Mistake?Trello boardsNeal Stephenson’s essay, Why I Am a Bad CorrespondentMeeting schedulersScheduleOnceX.aiCalendly You can listen (and subscribe) to the podcast below! The post Podcast: A World Without Email appeared first on A Life of Productivity.
32 minutes | Mar 16, 2021
47: Mini Productivity Experiments
On this episode, we chat about five productivity experiments you can try out while stuck at home—including how to wake up early, reset your caffeine tolerance, and replace TV time with books. Topics covered include: How our wakeup time doesn’t affect our income or success levelThe downfalls of caffeineHow to optimize your caffeine consumptionThe ways we borrow energy from tomorrowHow many years of our lives we spend watching TVHow mental stimulation has become the enemy of focusIdentifying your keystone habitsCreating a cycle of positive changeMini productivity experiments to try out in quarantine:Different wakeup timesA caffeine resetCutting out boozeReplacing TV with booksNew workout regimens Links mentioned in this episode: TED Talk: that mentions socioeconomic standing and sleepArticle: 3 ways to identify your “keystone habits”, habits that change everythingBook: The Power of HabitTED Talk: How to Get Your Brain to FocusArticle: How to gain back 13.6 years of your life, in an instantStudy: Alcohol Use and Breast Cancer RiskFitness Apps:Peloton DigitalApple Fitness+Beach Body On DemandPop Sugar FitnessYoga with Adrenne You can listen (and subscribe) to the podcast below! The post Podcast: Mini Productivity Experiments appeared first on A Life of Productivity.
21 minutes | Mar 2, 2021
46: All or Something Thinking
On this episode, we chat about how to avoid “all or nothing” thinking—also known as the “eff it” effect, or the abstinence violation effect, if you want to get technical about it. Topics covered include: ⁃ Not being satisfied by partial success⁃ How the effect plays out across different time scales⁃ The idea of “sunk costs”⁃ How awareness is key to behavioral change⁃ The downfalls of black and white thinking You can listen (and subscribe) to the podcast below! The post Podcast: All or Something Thinking appeared first on A Life of Productivity.
23 minutes | Feb 16, 2021
44: Generating Ideas
Takeaway: Some problems are best solved by continuously chipping away at them. For others, there’s a real benefit in letting your mind wander. This allows us to connect the future, past, and present and come up with new ideas and be intentional about our goals. Capture mode, problem crunching mode, and habitual mode are two ways to strategically mind wander. Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes, 17s. Podcast Length: 23 minutes, 06s (link to play podcast at the bottom of post). A couple weeks back on the podcast we chatted all about the productivity benefits of capturing ideas and served up a buffet of techniques on how to do just that. This week’s episode looks at how you can generate ideas in the first place. Some problems require us to hunker down and apply reason and logic until a way forward becomes clear. Others require larger leaps in thinking and a spoonful of creativity. They demand that we puzzle piece together disparate pieces of knowledge, experiences, and conversations to come up with a new way to overcome the impasse. Problems like this are best solved with a wandering mind. It may seem counterintuitive, but setting your focused work aside to let your mind rest and wander is scientifically-proven to be one of the best things you can do for your productivity. When it comes to generating ideas, research shows that a wandering mind elevates our creative thinking to a league of its own. When we give our mind time to wander, it visits many destinations: 48% of the time it thinks about the future, 28% of the time it’s in the present, and 12% is spent reflecting on the past (in the remaining moments, your mind is typically blank or not mulling over anything in particular). This pondering of the future is when you become more intentional about future goals. In fact, research says we’re 14 times more likely to think about our goals when our mind is wandering versus when it’s focused. By keeping your goals or the problem you need to solve in mind, and then bouncing between the future, present, and past, your mind connects ideas from all three mental destinations. At the same time, it’s given the time to rest and plan—something that’s even more valuable in the time of a global pandemic. (If you’re interested in reading more about this, my second book, Hyperfocus, does a deep dive into the science behind this wandering mental mode called scatterfocus. I also dig into this mode in this talk!) So how exactly do you get your mind to wander? There are three modes you can use: capture mode, problem crunching mode, and habitual mode. Capture mode is the best at capturing what’s on your mind—all the things you’re waiting on, the stuff you’ve got to do, what you’re making for dinner… Let your mind wander and log the ideas that pop to mind as you stroll through those mental corridors. Sitting somewhere with a notepad works well for this. Problem crunching mode is great for digesting specific problems where you’ve reached some sort of impasse. Like a sculpture at an art gallery, think of that problem as something worth roaming around. Examine it from different angles, maybe check out another exhibition, and return to it later. Ideas are much more likely to come to you this way versus if you were to focus intently for hours on end. Episode 35 of the podcast explored how sleeping on an idea can have the same effect as allowing your mind to wander. Then, there’s habitual mode, my all-time favorite way to generate new ideas. Just as it sounds, this mental mode involves going about a habit that doesn’t fill your attention to the brim. Bake cookies, make coffee, take a shower, go for a phone-free stroll—anything that will give you a bit of a mental breather. It’s in habitual mode where we generate the greatest number of ideas and creative insights (remember to capture them!). Plus it’s more fun because you get a mental vacation from focusing on an all-consuming task. The next time you’re stuck on a problem, let your mind wander. You’re more likely to break through the impasse and come out the other side feeling well-rested and full of ideas for the future. The post 3 ways to generate more ideas appeared first on A Life of Productivity.
26 minutes | Feb 2, 2021
44: Capturing Ideas
Takeaway: Capturing ideas helps us log what’s on our mind and think more clearly throughout the day. What you capture can be super broad, from tasks, to follow-up reminders, to actual insights. The ways of logging those ideas are equally diverse, and include digital and physical notepads, task managers, and messaging tools. Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes, 40s. Podcast Length: 25 minutes, 56s (link to play podcast at the bottom of post). A couple of years ago, I chatted with productivity author David Allen on the podcast. One of the nuggets of wisdom he shared during our conversation was that our heads are for having ideas, not holding them. David was talking about our limited mental bandwidth. The more it’s cluttered with reminders and things to follow-up on, the less attentional space we have to focus on our most meaningful work. It takes a surprising amount of time and energy to remember all these disparate thoughts, and it’s never worthwhile forgetting them only to remember them again later. The more ideas you can get out of your head, capture, and organize, the better. There are all sorts of ideas to keep tabs on. Some involve strokes of brilliance, others are the laundry list of tasks you need to get done or a reminder that may tug on your attention throughout the day. There are countless things you might want to get out of your head: Stuff you’re waiting on. These are items you’re waiting for from other people—things you need to check up on later. I’ve scheduled a recurring weekly task in my calendar so I remember to check this list a few times a week and follow up with people accordingly. Ideas you want to look into more deeply. You encounter so much information in a day, and chances are you’ll want to explore more on these topics—just not when you’re in the middle of some other task. Log them and leave them for later. Distractions and reminders. If you’re anything like me, your mind is an ongoing to-do list of reminders and distractions. Capturing and organizing these mental tidbits helps set them aside in the moment. Actual ideas and insights. If you don’t capture an idea, you can’t act on it. With so many of us doing knowledge work for a living, the insights we generate are worth their weight in gold. If your job involves a lot of juggling tasks, connecting with people, and generating new ideas, capturing what’s on your mind becomes a way to do better work. There’s no shortage of tools you can use to capture these ideas. And like most productivity tactics, there’s no one right answer for everyone. But what is typically consistent is that whether it’s in the shower, out for a long walk, or jolted awake from a night’s sleep, we’re rarely in a convenient place when an idea pops into mind. Some idea-capturing tools: AquaNotes. Research has found that ideas commonly come to us when our mind wanders or we’re doing something routine. AquaNotes are water-proof notepads you can hang in the shower. They’re one of my favorite productivity products, period. Notes app on your device. Most devices come with a notepad app. I personally use Simplenote, so my ideas sync across every device I own. These apps are a great way to make sure you’re tracking all your ideas and have them at your fingertips when it’s time to action them. Physical notepad. Kick it old school! I always keep a physical notepad on my desk so I can scribble down thoughts and distractions, and get back to work. Task manager. Task managers are basically repositories to keep your thoughts organized. My favorite task manager is Things, though it’s only available for Apple devices. Voice recorder app. Sometimes ideas flow more freely when we speak them versus writing them down. Most devices come with a built-in voice recorder tool. Email or message an idea to yourself. This is another option if you’re close to your device. If you prefer not having your primary email account on your phone, try creating a dedicated inbox for sending these messages. I’ve found it’s helpful to ritualize the act of both capturing and organizing my ideas. I do this all at once every Sunday night when I’m planning out my week—but what works for you might be different. This one’s a real choose your own adventure, and it’s all about experimenting until you find what’s right for you. Happy idea capturing! P.S. – there are also lots of productivity benefits to meditation. That’s the topic of my latest project: an Audible Original book called How to Train Your Mind. It’s free with an Audible subscription in the US. Check it out! The post The Productivity Benefits of Capturing Ideas appeared first on A Life of Productivity.
23 minutes | Jan 19, 2021
43: A Subset of Worry
Takeaway:: Make a list of everything you’re worrying about, and divide it into what you do and don’t have control over. Then, deal with the items on your list accordingly. Estimated Reading Time:: 1 minutes, 35s. Podcast Length: 22 minutes, 42s (link to play podcast at the bottom of post). Believe it or not, it’s possible to worry more productively. On this week’s podcast, Ardyn and I dig into one of my favorite productivity tactics for crazy times like these: the worry list. The name pretty much says it all: a worry list is just a list of what you’re worrying about; problems in your life or the world that are causing you anxiety. Making the list is straightforward: 1. Capture all of the things that worry you over the span of a day. Just get it all of your head and onto a sheet of paper (or into some digital document, if that’s your preference). 2. Categorize all of your worries into two groups: what you have control over, and what you don’t. After you’ve captured it all, make a plan to deal with what you have control over. If you can, you can also delegate items on the list—this instantly frees up mental bandwidth for more important things. You can also eliminate worries, by eliminating the underlying commitments or habits that cause them. (One example: if a lot of your worries are fed by constantly checking the news, subscribe to a physical newspaper instead, to get a daily update, instead of an hourly one.) However you can, just make a plan to deal with every worry that’s controllable. With what’s outside of your control, keep in mind that your mind is predisposed to pay attention to, and worry about anything you perceive to be a threat—throughout the day, recognize when you’re worrying about something, while understanding that some worrying happens subconsciously. Schedule time to worry about these things if you feel the need to, so that they don’t bleed into the rest of your day. Right now, there’s a lot on our minds to worry about. If you’re anything like me, creating a worry list will help. Especially in overanxious times like these, thought patterns of worry only ever obscure what’s important. The post The Worry List appeared first on A Life of Productivity.
27 minutes | Jan 5, 2021
42: Time and Money
Takeaway: In her book Time Smart, behavioral scientist and Harvard Business School professor Ashley Whillans digs into the fascinating relationship between time, money, and happiness. While making more money is an easier goal to chase, Ashley’s research shows that making time-first choices ultimately leads to greater happiness. Time Smart outlines strategies to do just that, including tactics to save us time and ones we can use to buy time back. Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes, 55s. Podcast Length: 26 minutes, 41s (link to play podcast at the bottom of post). It’s one of life’s classic quandaries: what ultimately makes us happier, more time or more money? Ashley Whillans’ research points firmly at time. Ashley is a behavior scientist and Harvard Business School professor who is fascinated by how time, money, and happiness influence each other. Her book, Time Smart, is a fantastic and concise read on this very topic. She’s also my guest on the podcast this week. A central theme of the book looks at how we’re more likely to chase money with greater drive than we pursue having more time. This is for three simple reasons: Money is generally a necessity in our society. The prevailing narrative is that money and success are synonymous with one another. Psychologically, it’s easier for us to track money and feel satisfied when we have it. Having $500 in your bank account is objective and tangible—gaining three hours of time on a Saturday? Not so much. This is why we give up our time more readily than we give up our money. But this loss of time comes at a cost, and Ashley argues that it’s critical for us to value our time to the same extent that we value our money. According to her research, people who even just say that they put time first report being happier, less stressed, and more satisfied with their social relationships. People who value time over money also tend to be more productive and creative because they take the time to build new relationships and recharge. These are concrete, positive outcomes that come with making time-first decisions. Time Smart outlines a handful of valuable strategies for how we can start prioritizing time over money. I love that many of these tactics don’t cost anything, because it debunks the myth that only the wealthy can afford to put time first. These strategies fall into two categories: tactics to save us time, and tactics to buy our time back. Tactics to save time are about tackling time traps head-on. Imagine pinging phone alerts and how they disrupt our moments of leisure. That technology pitfall shreds our valuable time into a thousand distracted fragments, which Ashley calls “time confetti.” Time traps are also caused by the mere urgency effect, the phenomena that makes us prioritize things that are urgent but not important—checking your email non-stop rather than spending time with your family, for example. To save yourself time, try: Scheduling Proactive Time. This is a chunk of time when you can focus on your most meaningful but not necessarily most urgent work. Spend 30 minutes at the start of each week scheduling in a pair of two-hour proactive time blocks. Take these blocks to completely unplug and hyperfocus on your important tasks. Focusing on small, everyday time-first decisions. Living your day more mindfully is one tactic to save time. Whenever we make the decision to clock out of work early, create a boundary between home and work (even in today’s day and age), or treat an upcoming weekend like a holiday, we are choosing whether to prioritize time or money. Reflect on your everyday decisions and pushback against the urge to check your email after hours versus spending time with family or friends. Tactics to buy back time reframe the value we associate with time and happiness. Because money is a metric we all understand, Ashley conceptualized “Happiness Dollars” which attaches a concrete value to the happiness benefits that come from making time-first decisions. She calculated these values through various surveys where people reflected on their happiness level related to different activities. Consider that: People who say they value time over money is equivalent to making $4,400 more each year. Outsourcing our most disliked task is equivalent to making $10,000 more each year. Socializing more than usual is shown to make us happier, which is equivalent to making $20-30,000 more each year. Interestingly, one way to encourage people to spend money in order to save themselves time (i.e. hiring a virtual assistant) is to reframe it as a decision that benefits others. By delegating your work, you’re left with more time to spend with family or to volunteer in your community. Focusing on time is not a selfish act. Like so much we talk about on the podcast and this blog, choosing to prioritize time over money boils down to mindfulness. As Ashley says, living a time-first life can lead to greater happiness and shape the overall quality of our lives—but we need to consciously decide to pursue that path. Hope you enjoy the podcast! The post What makes us happier, time or money? appeared first on A Life of Productivity.
15 minutes | Dec 22, 2020
41: The Holiday Spectacular
Takeaway: This year, try giving yourself a non-material gift. Three ways to do this: think about something in your life that’s missing; look at the habits you want to pick up again; and take your vacation days or use up your benefits. Estimated Reading Time: 1 minutes, 57s. Podcast Length: 15 minutes, 17s (link to play podcast at the bottom of post). Happy holidays, everybody! We’re nearing the end of a weird year, and the thing we might be celebrating the most is the fact that 2020 is almost over. If you’re anything like us, this December looks a little different. Normally we’d be bouncing around between parties with inlaws and friends. While that’s not happening this year, there are still ways to treat yourself over the holidays. I’m not talking about physical gifts—I’m thinking about all the intangible gifts you can give yourself in order to get the most out of the days to come. For example, I’m giving myself the gift of disconnection. For a week over Christmas, I’m deliberately disengaging from all things online—turning on my email autoresponder, changing my social media passwords, and putting my phone in Grayscale mode to make it less appealing. I’ve spent more time than I’d like to admit this year refreshing Twitter and watching YouTube videos. With this gift, I’m giving myself permission to be bored. If you can’t think of the last time you were in this state, then this might be a good gift for you, too. Here are a few ways to approach finding what gift to give yourself: Think about something in your life that’s missing or has fallen to the wayside. Maybe you really enjoyed taking a brisk morning stroll at the start of the pandemic. The holidays are a great time to re-examine and reset. Look at habits you want to double down on. You don’t have to wait until the new year to change your habits and routines. Try spending some time reflecting on what these habits are and then start them up again. Take vacation days or use up your benefits. Don’t let these go to waste! The end of the year is when the clock chimes midnight on many benefits packages and vacation days. If you’re able, take some days off over the holiday and relax. Whatever gift you end up giving yourself, we hope you have a safe holiday season and can start off the new year feeling refreshed and re-energized. You deserve it! See you after the holiday! P.S. – if you listened to the podcast and want the sweet potato mash recipe Ardyn mentioned, here it is :-) The post Treat yourself this holiday season appeared first on A Life of Productivity.
14 minutes | Dec 8, 2020
40: Three Breaths
Takeaway: Before switching between tasks, take three deep breaths. It’s a super simple way to reset your focus and set a quick intention for what comes next. Three techniques you can try: box breathing, the 4-7-8 technique, and the 5-5-5 breathing technique. Estimated Reading Time: 2 minutes, 28s. Podcast Length: 14 minutes, 21s (link to play podcast at the bottom of post). Breathing is something we all do but rarely think about. And yet it dictates whether we feel anxious or calm, tense or relaxed (and not to mention keeps us alive). Harnessing the power of your breath is one of the most simple and powerful things you can do for your mental and physical well-being. That leads to one of my favorite new productivity tactics: the next time you switch between projects, meetings, or return to work after answering email, take three big, deep breaths. That’s it. This simple half a minute is a great way to transition from one task to another, and it helps your mind reset and focus for the next thing on your plate. This tactic also helps you clear your mind of some “attention residue,” a phenomena I write about in Hyperfocus. Coined by Dr. Sophie Leroy, a professor of organizational behavior at the University of Washington, attention residue is the term that describes the fragments of a previous task that remain in your memory after you shift to another activity. If you jump immediately from task A to task B, your mind will still be thinking about that previous work, preventing you from fully engaging in whatever is going on at hand. This phenomena is just one of the reasons why multitasking makes us less efficient. Taking three deep breaths between tasks will serve to dust out some of this attention residue. Consider it a bit of mental housekeeping—clearing the table before eating your next meal. While three deep breaths of any length will do, you can also try your hand at a few different techniques. Box breathing is an inhale hold, exhale hold technique. Breathe in for four seconds, hold for four seconds, exhale for four seconds, and then start again on the inhale. Think of it as constructing a box with your breath, where the “walls” of the box are four seconds in length. Another is the 4-7-8 breathing technique where you inhale for four seconds, hold for seven seconds, and exhale for eight seconds. While everyone is different, this pattern has been used to reduce anxiety and help you sleep. The last pattern you can try is the 5-5-5 breathing technique. Studies suggest that a pattern of 5.5 second inhales and exhales is the optimal breathing rate to achieve higher heart rate variability—which has been associated with improved physical and mental well-being. Taking three deep breaths is an easy, powerful, and completely free tactic that should take no more than a minute, even if you’re taking really long, intentional breaths. Give it a shot the next time you feel yourself frantically hopping from one thing to another. If you want to dig deeper into the fascinating art and science of breathing, I highly recommend the book Breath, by James Nestor. We chat about it a bit on this week’s podcast. The post All you need are three breaths appeared first on A Life of Productivity.
18 minutes | Nov 24, 2020
39: The Pre-Mortem
Takeaway: A pre-mortem is a ritual that helps you account for all that could go wrong with a project—in advance of those mishaps actually occurring in real life. Three steps to do a pre-mortem: identify the projects you want to go well, imagine the worst case scenarios, and create a plan to make your project more resilient using the knowledge you collected. Estimated Reading Time: 2 minutes, 39s. Podcast Length: 18 minutes, 29s (link to play podcast at the bottom of post). You’re probably familiar with the idea of a post-mortem—the debrief session that happens after you wrap up a project. For projects that haven’t gone as planned, a post-mortem is a chance to figure out what went wrong and how to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen the next time around. A pre-mortem is similar, but instead of picking up the pieces after a project finishes up, you think about what could go wrong before a project starts, so you can anticipate problems before they occur. A pre-mortem ritual is great for any project, and takes just a few steps. 1. Identify the projects you want to go really well This can be anything in your life, big or small, individual or team projects, stuff going on in your home life or at the office. You can do a pre-mortem on projects you haven’t started yet, or ones you’re in the middle of completing. 2. Imagine all of the ways those projects might fail The second step is to imagine that the projects you identified in the first step have failed catastrophically. Ask yourself: what went wrong that led these projects to go so poorly? While this may seem like a depressing exercise, this step will help you anticipate all that could go wrong—and then strategize ways to avoid such mishaps. There’s never just a single worst case scenario, and these disastrous situations may come to you over time. Keep a “what went wrong” sticky note on your desk or a running list on your phone for a few days, to capture ideas. This will help when it comes to step three. Be sure to ask people close to the project for their worst case scenarios, too. 3. Draw up a plan to make your projects more resilient Now that you’ve conjured up the ways in which your projects can go wrong, do all you can to avoid having those visualizations become a reality. Look at the lists that you’ve made and consider the things you could have done differently. Use these ideas to make changes to your work plan or timeline to make it more likely to succeed. The result will be a game plan that’s more resilient to change—because you’ve already imagined and accounted for those pitfalls. —- As a personal example, I did a pretty extensive pre-mortem back in 2018 when I was preparing to launch my second book, Hyperfocus. I wrote out a bunch of scenarios that eventually informed the publicity plan for the book—as well as how I wrote the book itself. Sample worst case scenarios for me included things like: Not doing enough podcast outreach; The book getting a lukewarm reception; Terrible reviews; No big media outlets wanting to cover the book. These points and others became a catalyst to plan more, do more, and ultimately, to write a better book. While this is just one example, try the pre-mortem exercise out—it’s a gateway to better, more thoughtful planning, and can lead to a cascade of positive effects for your project. The post Starting a new project? Conduct a pre-mortem appeared first on A Life of Productivity.
30 minutes | Nov 10, 2020
38: The Phone Challenge
Takeaway: Last week I challenged you to go as many days as possible without charging your phone. Some practical tips to help you do that (especially during this anxious time): rethink which jobs you hire your phone for, rearrange your home screen, take advantage of your phone’s many modes, and opt to get news alerts from a single source. Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes, 48s. Podcast Length: 30 minutes, 1s (link to play podcast at the bottom of post). It’s been a uniquely crazy and anxious few weeks (in an already stressful year), and if you’re anything like me, you’ve been glued to coverage of the U.S. election, awaiting all the results that came in over the weekend. Maybe you’re spending more time than ever bouncing between news apps, or texting friends out of excitement and nerves. With our phones keeping us tethered to a world of worry, there’s no better time to try out the challenge we talked about last week: to see how many days you can go without charging your phone. My iPhone 11 Pro usually lasts for a day on a single charge, so this was an experiment to see if I could make the battery last for two days, or even three. In the end, I got to 2.5 days before running out of juice. For those who are interested in disconnecting for a bit during this crazy time, here are some practical tips for how to check your phone less and make your battery last longer. While it can be a fun competition with yourself, the real goal is to use your phone more mindfully—and hopefully less overall! 1. Rethink the “jobs” you hire your phone for The late Clayton Christensen was known for a bunch of interesting nuggets of business wisdom, one of which was the jobs to be done theory. The premise is that every product we buy should do a job for us—whether it’s “hiring” Kleenex for blowing our nose or using Uber Eats to order another round of election night chicken wings. Today, our phone does so many jobs. It’s our alarm clock, GPS, newspaper, video game console, calendar… the list goes on. It’s no surprise we spend so much time on our devices when it’s our one-stop-shop for just about everything. To spend less time on your phone and make your battery last longer, consider switching some of these tasks to analogue devices—i.e. a nightside table alarm clock, physical newspaper, or agenda. Or, even better, cull the ones that don’t serve you (think: social media, video games, Netflix binges). 2. Rearrange your home screen We’ve all opened our phone to text a friend only to 30 minutes later find ourselves scrolling on Twitter. Changing the layout of your phone’s home screen is one way to make your device less appealing. Consider the apps that make you feel anxious or unhappy, and either delete them or store them on the second or third screen, buried in a folder. I have social media apps stored in a “Social” folder (which I relabel as “Distractions” when I really want to deter myself from using them!). It’s a small extra tap to open them, but I find it’s enough of a reminder to use my phone with a bit more awareness. Reclaim your home screen with apps that are meaningful to you—maybe it’s a meditation timer, an audiobook app, or your workout tracker. The less you’re tempted to use your phone, the longer your battery will last. 3. Take advantage of your phone’s many modes This one’s more of a hack, but it works. Modes like Do Not Disturb, Airplane mode, Low Battery mode, and Grayscale disable various features of your phone that will preserve its battery and make it less appealing overall. The power of Grayscale mode is especially worth highlighting. It simply turns your screen black and white, which may seem like no big deal until we realize that a lot of apps use color psychology to boost usage. News websites crank the saturation on photos so our screens appear more vibrant and exciting. Grayscale mode is great for your battery life and will make your phone less stimulating. 4. Get news alerts from a single source This is a turbulent time, and it’s not helpful to be bouncing back and forth between a half dozen news apps. Choose your favorite news app and enable notifications—shutting off the alerts for all others. Being mindful and selective with your alerts will help you stay better focused and less stressed at a time when calmness is key. — The two-day phone challenge isn’t really about how long you can make your battery last—it’s about how to be more mindful and intentional about what you’re consuming. Remember that the path to better productivity runs straight through calm, and checking your phone less routinely is one stop along the way to get there. The post Here’s how to (properly) put down your phone appeared first on A Life of Productivity.
26 minutes | Oct 27, 2020
37: Inbox Zero
Takeaway: A few tactics to help you inbox with intention: track your email usage, adopt email sprints, take an email vacation, suggest phone calls for longer discussions, and send less email. Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes, 38s. Podcast Length: 26 minutes, 8s (link to play podcast at the bottom of post). While the idea of Inbox Zero is sexy, the reality is that most of us don’t get there. Even if you do manage to tend to every message in your inbox, it’s only a matter of time before a new one comes in. Inbox Zero is a slippery, competitive slope, and can lead us to think about our email at all hours of the day, obsessively checking and replying to maintain an empty inbox. I personally like to look at Inbox Zero as a state of mind—getting to the point where you are dedicating zero mental space towards thinking about email. This requires a mindset shift where you bring more awareness into how you interact with your inbox. While your email behavior will look differently depending on whether your work is more collaborative or autonomous, here are a few tactics you can use to change the relationship you have with your inbox. 1. Track your email usage Keep a post-it note tally for a day or afternoon to track how many times you checked for new messages. Then, reflect on why it was that you checked. Was it because you were expecting an urgent reply from a colleague, or did you need an excuse to procrastinate? The latter may be a sign that you’ve reached an impasse in your work. If that’s the case, consider taking a short break so you can return to your most important work with the energy and focus is deserves. 2. Try an email sprint I love this tactic and use it all the time. At the top of the hour or whenever you have the chance, set a timer for 10 minutes. Take that time to blow through as many emails as you possibly can. When your ringer goes, take the remainder of the hour to disconnect entirely and focus on other work. 3. Take an email vacation This can be for an entire day or just a few hours when you’re working on a deadline or have a task that demands a lot of focus. Most of us can go for this length of time without having our work fall apart—and it’s likely what you’d be doing anyways if you had an important client meeting or an all-day seminar. I had an old coworker who would shut down his email, set an auto-responder, and take that time to hunker down on a big project. Not only does an email vacation give you the chance to really hyperfocus, but it can actually give the illusion of greater productivity. Sometimes being truly productive means taking a few days to reply, and that’s okay. 4. Suggest phone calls for longer conversations This is a simple rule: if you want to write an email that’s longer than three sentences, pick up the phone and call someone. Some things are just easier to discuss verbally, and a phone call is often more efficient and nuanced than an email novella. 5. Send less email The more email you send, the more you receive—cut your inbox in half by sending less email yourself. Before sending a message, consider its purpose and the people who need to be included. Pausing for this moment will help you be a good email Samaritan and will also avoid the dreaded second email when you realize you forgot a point during your frenzied first reply. — Attention researcher Gloria Mark found that the more time we spend on email each day, the lower we perceive our productivity to be and the more stressed we feel. Checking your inbox is easy—what’s more difficult is having the time, attention, and energy to read through and respond in a thoughtful way. Email was created for our convenience and it’s an important way of sharing information with people, especially during these strange times. But we shouldn’t feel beholden to our inboxes, and I hope you can use these tactics to free yourself from the idea that you should be immediately available and responsive. Chances are your boss isn’t paying you to respond to emails—it’s the focused, specialized work that happens in between those inbox checking sessions that really matters. Reclaim these moments and you will find you’re able to work with greater time, attention, and energy. The post Inbox Zero is a state of mind appeared first on A Life of Productivity.
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