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23 minutes | 7 days ago
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 | 21 days ago
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 | a month ago
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 Here’s a bit of permission to treat yourself over the holidays appeared first on A Life of Productivity.
14 minutes | 2 months ago
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 | 2 months ago
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 | 3 months ago
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 | 3 months ago
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.
35 minutes | 3 months ago
36: Opting Out
Takeaway: Cait Flanders’ new book, Adventures in Opting Out: A Field Guide to Leading an Intentional Life, explores how we can step away from the default and choose a life guided by intention and purpose. A number of ideas to think about: how our culture and the stories we’re told shape our values and goals; using intuition to identify what we really value; signs that we should opt out; and how to respond to critical judgement around your choices. Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes, 1s. Podcast Length: 34 minutes, 54s (link to play podcast at the bottom of post). Many of us are familiar with the default script: go to school, get good grades, find a job, meet a partner, settle down, and kick the bucket at the very end. These are age-old stories that are handed down from our culture, the media, and the people in our lives. But what if you scrapped the script and instead made the choices you really want? That’s how Cait Flanders lives her life, and it’s an idea she explores in her new book, Adventures in Opting Out. Long time podcast listeners may remember Cait from episode 13, where we chatted about whether or not to take advice from experts. This week I was thrilled to have her back on the show to talk about her second book (her first release, The Year of Less, is also a great read!). Adventures in Opting Out digs into an idea we all need to hear right now: the power of living in a way that’s true to who we are instead of what the world expects of us. That includes opting out: making the decision to work for yourself, to not have kids, to pursue a new lifestyle—the opt outs are endless. The book presents a wonderful and fun opportunity to reflect on this theme so that we can make the choices that will help us lead a more intentional and meaningful life. I love the reflective nature of Cait’s writing, and that introspection is embedded within every page of this book. Here are a few ideas from our conversation and the book to mull over during your next period of reflection. 1. Recognize how the default script can shape your goals and values. The curious thing about following a well-worn path is that you involuntarily find yourself enrolled in the goals and values that go along with it. If the default script says you should own a house by the time you’re 30, your goal might be to find a six-figure job and value compensation above all else. There’s an ease and comfort in chasing this default script in autopilot mode without stopping to listen to what we really want. Determining what you value is easier said than done. Cait shares that she used to pick values and corresponding goals that were more aspirational—rather than what she really wanted to do. Often these aspirational values were guided by a sense of what she should be doing. 2. To determine what you value, pay attention to your gut reaction. Intuition is a powerful tool. To identify your true values, Cait suggests noting the choices that make you feel unsettled. She gives the example of becoming a vegetarian. Before making this change, Cait remembers ordering meat or saying ‘yes’ to a dish made by her parents. She was unhappy with her decision every time. If you hear yourself resisting something over and over again, take those feelings as a sign that you may be living out of alignment with your values. Boiled down, your values are the flipside of what you don’t like. 3. Take note of other signs that it’s time to opt out. There’s too many signals to list, and Cait goes much deeper into this in her book. A few signs include hearing yourself say the same thing over and over; not being able to sleep because you’re so irked by something needing to change; not being present in conversations; and noticing that you revert to a different or older version of yourself around certain people. 4. Prepare to be judged—and be okay with that. As someone who has opted out of drinking, an unhealthy relationship with shopping, a conventional job, and more, Cait has heard a lot of unsolicited feedback on her choices. These opinions can be difficult to swallow, especially when they come from people we care about. But Cait says that people can only see as far for you as they can for themselves, and that judgements are often a reflection of what people would say to themselves if faced with a similar change. She suggests using these critical moments to engage in conversation and ask questions about why someone feels the way they do. It takes time and introspection to pinpoint your values and determine the life you want. The ideas above can help you along that journey, though Cait notes that your thoughts will look differently depending on what opt out you’re considering. It’s not a spoiler to say that Cait believes every adventure in opting out has been worth it. Each time she stepped away from something that wasn’t working for her, she could finally hear her own voice. Chock full of stories and insights, I highly recommend picking up Adventures in Opting Out. The post To lead a more intentional life, try opting out appeared first on A Life of Productivity.
19 minutes | 4 months ago
35: An Idea to Sleep On
Takeaway: The next time you reach a strong impasse with a problem, sleep on it, by writing down the problem before heading to bed. Incubating unresolved problems overnight lets your mind wander, rest, and unearth insights you might not otherwise have had. Estimated Reading Time: 2 minutes, 13s. Podcast Length: 18 minutes, 34s (link to play podcast at the bottom of post). If you’re anything like me, you occasionally find yourself staring down what could be several more hours of work at the end of the day—maybe stumped by a technical problem or grasping for a way to connect seemingly disparate ideas in a presentation. Whatever it is, you’ve reached an impasse and you may not be sure what to do next. Pulling an all-nighter is one option—but a better option might be to sleep on the problem. Here’s how the idea works: as you’re disconnecting at the end of the day, write down one open loop or problem that you want to solve and think about until the next morning. Then, go to sleep. As you rest, your brain will continue to churn away on the problem, making it more likely that you’ll experience a eureka moment in the morning. Try to always go to bed with a problem in mind that you want to solve. Sleeping on a problem works for two curious reasons. First, it works because of a psychological phenomenon named the “Zeigarnik effect”. Named after psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik, this effect suggests that we store unresolved problems at the front of our minds. Our brains are wired to continue connecting new experiences and thoughts to that problem until the loop is closed. That includes the new ideas that come up when our minds wander. By capturing a problem before bed, you’re more likely to store it front-of-mind for the night—when your mind will turn over the problem, in search of a solution to it. This is where the power of dreaming comes in—the second reason sleeping on a problem works so well. Interestingly, the brain networks we use to dream as we sleep and daydream are eerily similar—on a neurological level, dreaming is basically daydreaming on steroids. And, as I’ve written about in the past, a surefire way of becoming more creative is to daydream more often. Like daydreaming, dreaming creates the space for us to process problems and unearth new insights. When we wake up we find we’re not only more refreshed and able to focus, but that our subconscious may have pieced together the puzzle from the day before. (I dig into this idea more in Hyperfocus. Everyone from Thomas Edison to Salvador Dali have used sleep as a tool to come up with new insight solutions.) Going to bed with a problem to sleep on works best for a single specific, complex problem that would benefit from some additional time or thought. Something simple to try the next time you’ve reached an impasse in your work. Sweet, productive dreams! The post Tonight, pick one problem to sleep on appeared first on A Life of Productivity.
32 minutes | 4 months ago
34: How to Read More Books
Takeaway: Many of us want to read more but are unsure of how to do it. A handful of tactics to try: set specific times to read, create a comfortable physical environment, identify less meaningful activities and replace them with reading, read shorter books, have multiple books on-the-go, put down books you’re not enjoying, make reading a social activity, know which reading format you prefer, and schedule a reading day. Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes, 19s. Podcast Length: 31 minutes, 58s (link to play podcast at the bottom of post). Whether it’s immersing yourself in a faraway fictional world or digesting the ideas of a nonfiction book, reading is one of the most meaningful ways to spend your day and activate your mind. It’s also one of the best temporary escapes from this anxious time—all while staying within the comfort of your home. A lot of people want to read more books, but are uncertain of where to start. On this week’s episode of Becoming Better (which you can play at the bottom of the post), we explore this goal and share a buffet of tactics to get you started. Here are a few ideas that have worked for us, pulled from the episode! 1. Set aside specific times to read Figure out how reading can fit into the structure of your day. Maybe it’s right after you wake up alongside a mug of tea, or sitting on a park bench at lunch. Think about how you’re spending your day and how you could carve out a window of time to sit down with a book. Reading is also a great way to transition from your work day into your personal time—an especially important divide when we lack the physical separation between our home and office. 2. Create a physical environment that’s conducive to reading This can be extraordinarily helpful when it comes to starting your own reading ritual. I personally put my phone and tablet in another room, lie on the couch, and tune into the “Simply Piano Radio” station on Apple Music. Take this ritual with a grain of salt, though—the “perfect” environment for reading can be elusive, and if you wait for the stars to perfectly align you may never pick up a book. 3. Replace less meaningful tasks with reading Whether it’s engaging in an endless Twitter scroll or binge watching Netflix, we all have parts of our day that could be categorized as less-than-meaningful. Identify what those things are and take them as a sign that you should pick up a book instead. We all have time for reading if we choose to prioritize it. 4. Read shorter books This might sound like cheating, but short books actually pair really well with longer reads—right now, for example, I’m reading a bunch of short books while also reading the tome that is Cryptonomicon. It‘s rewarding to make progress in a short book while progressing through a larger one. 5. Read multiple books at once Think of it like diversifying your portfolio of investments. If you’re reading multiple books you can pretty much guarantee you’re going to enjoy one. I ran a Twitter poll asking how many books people read at once—most (60%) said they read more than one book at a time. I personally have around four or five books on-the-go at once. This is especially true with nonfiction. You can process reading multiple simultaneous nonfiction books better than you might think, since you’re just accumulating facts, and have no storylines to cross. 6. Stop reading books you don’t enjoy Some books just won’t connect with you, regardless of their reviews or recommendations. Putting down a bad book is naturally motivating. This approach is probably not worth applying to everything, but life’s too short to read books you don’t like. 7. Put more thought into your reading list in order to read better books This can include the classics—many of which are available for free online or through the library. Look at literary recommendations but also be open to reading something that doesn’t have a five star review. Taste is so personal, and who knows where you’ll find your next favorite book—in general, we should spend more time choosing the books we read than we do. One suggestion: see the description of each book you’re considering reading as a pitch for your time and attention. 8. Make reading more social You may already be familiar with Goodreads, a social network where users can review, recommend, and save titles. Book clubs are also a great way to make reading a social activity, and are one option for staying connected with friends and family during the pandemic. Both can help you stumble on great books you wouldn’t read otherwise. 9. Know which reading format you prefer I’m a physical book kind of guy, and always have a pen and highlighter in hand to scribble in the margins. Look at what you’re reading and how consequential the information is—audiobooks can be great for fictional reads, but you may prefer a physical book if you’re digging into something meaty. 10. Have a reading day This is a single day where you sit down and finish an entire book. Reading days can be a reward for meeting a deadline or finishing a project early. I find that a 300-350 page book is ideal for a reading day. Like all productivity advice, you need to take what works for you and leave the rest. Happy reading! The post 10 strategies to read more books appeared first on A Life of Productivity.
21 minutes | 5 months ago
33: Embracing Change
Takeaway: Change is inevitable and we need to learn to embrace it. Four tactics to get you started: have an awareness for change and how it interacts with your expectations, see every data point as part of a broader trend, shift your mindset to view change as the default state of the world, and meditate. Estimated Reading Time: 2 minutes, 50s. Podcast Length: 21 minutes, 8s (link to play podcast at the bottom of post). We’re going through a period of rapid change. Maybe your kids are going back to school, your office is considering opening its doors for the first time since the lockdown started, or your investments are making a rollercoaster look like a relaxing ride. It’s a difficult time for many, and embracing change is one of the ways we can give ourselves a helping hand. This idea is central to Buddhism: happiness is nothing more than coming to terms with how things change. In this week’s episode of Becoming Better, we discuss four strategies for how you can begin to accept change for what it is: an inevitable part of our lives. Be aware of how your expectations interact with change. Long-time readers of this blog will know how much I talk about the importance of working with intention and awareness. Typically, this means recognizing how you’re spending your time, attention, and energy. But it’s also important to be aware of your expectations and how they’re affected by change. Let’s say you order a slice of raspberry pie on the patio of your favorite coffee shop, but you’re brought a piece of chocolate cake instead. Even if you love chocolate cake you might be disappointed because your expectation was to be savoring that tangy raspberry taste. We are constantly comparing our experiences (the chocolate cake) to our expectations (the raspberry pie) and this can lead to disappointment. Being aware of how the change between expectation and experience makes you feel allows you to do something about it. Once you identify your emotions you can begin to investigate the expectations that triggered them.Zoom out to see the larger trend. Our lives are a series of data points measuring everything from our health to our finances to our sleep schedule. It’s not possible to get the whole story by looking at just one. That’s like saying “I didn’t go to the gym this week, and therefore I’m totally unhealthy and unmotivated.” Zooming out adds color and nuance to the black and white of individual data points. Because the reality is probably a lot closer to “I didn’t go to the gym at all this week because my kid was sick with the flu, I needed to prepare that presentation for the district manager, and I’ve been stressed after an argument with my sister. And I’ve actually increased my number of weekly workouts when compared to this time last year.” Zooming out provides context and helps us to see the trend in how things have changed over time. Journaling is one way to track and reflect on these trends.View change as the default state of life. Everything is always in a state of flux, and the sooner we accept that, the better. Welcome change as an old friend rather than an adversary.Meditate. Stepping back is a superpower right now, and meditation is one of the best ways to do that. Rather than immediately reverting to a default response to change, meditation helps you slow down, process, and respond in a healthier way. It also helps you see how your reaction might be informed by expectations, and how you can untangle these as a way to become better at dealing with change. If you’re new to the ritual of meditation here’s a guide to get you started. Change isn’t going anywhere, so the best thing we can do is to accept and grow alongside it. The post The power of embracing change appeared first on A Life of Productivity.
29 minutes | 7 months ago
32: Checking In
On this week’s podcast, my cohost Ardyn and I cover the biggest lessons we’ve learned from our experiments for the podcast, as well as our favorite nuggets of wisdom from the guests we’ve had on the show so far. Just in case you’re curious to dig into them, here are the 10 favorite interviews we’ve conducted to date—I’ve bolded what you’ll get out of each conversation above the link to play each episode. There’s a link to this week’s episode at the bottom of this post, too, where we share a bunch of things we’ve become better at while doing the podcast. Have a good week!Chris — 1. Cal Newport (author of Deep Work and Digital Minimalism) We chat about how to minimize the negative effects of technology: — 2. David Allen (author of Getting Things Done) We chat about how our head is for having ideas—not for holding them: — 3. Laura Vanderkam (author of What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, I Know How She Does It, Off the Clock, and others) We chat about how to track your time—the most limited resource you have to get things done: — 4. Jon Krop (meditation teacher) We chat about the productivity benefits of meditation: — 5. Cait Flanders (author of The Year of Less) We chat about how to determine whether someone who calls themselves an “expert” is worth listening to: — 6. Neil Pasricha (author of The Book of Awesome, The Happiness Equation, and You Are Awesome) We chat about how to become more resilient: — 7. James Clear (author of Atomic Habits) We chat about how to form new habits—and break existing ones that aren’t serving us: — 8. Michael Greger author of How Not to Die and How Not to Diet) We chat about science-backed strategies to lose weight: — 9. Henry Emmons (author of The Chemistry of Calm) We chat about science-backed strategies to settle our minds: — 10. Kelly McGonigal (author of The Willpower Instinct, The Upside of Stress, and The Joy of Movement) We chat about the science of how exercise influences our mental health and overall wellbeing: — Below, Ardyn and I also chat about the biggest lessons we’ve learned from the podcast over the last year and a bit. Enjoy :-) The post 10 interviews to make you more productive appeared first on A Life of Productivity.
45 minutes | 7 months ago
31: The Joy of Movement
Takeaway: Kelly McGonigal’s latest book, The Joy of Movement, is an ode to the value that movement can bring to our lives. Kelly shares how exercise of any kind and for any length of time can help us not only feel physically healthier, but also more connected with ourselves and our communities. She says that group movement is almost always better than individual exercise (even if it’s online!)—unless you’re spending time alone in nature. Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes, 38s. Podcast Length: 45 minutes, 28s (link to play podcast at the bottom of post). The Amazon links below are affiliate links—I get a cut of sales. I’ll be donating what I make to the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Movement may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about forming a connection with the people around you or attaining a sense of mental calm. Perhaps you envision a raucous dinner party to celebrate a friend’s birthday. Or maybe your mind paints a picture of a stoic figure meditating in silence and stillness. Or, a personal favorite, relaxing on the couch playing Animal Crossing, or sinking into a good book. Kelly McGonigal is an advocate for anything that gets us moving as a group—among a suite of other exercises. Kelly is a health psychologist and Stanford University lecturer whose TED talk about how to make stress your friend has been viewed more than 30 million times. In her latest book, The Joy of Movement, Kelly looks at how exercise can make you braver, help you connect with others, and experience mental resilience and joy. I’ve been a long-time fan of Kelly’s writing, and her 2015 book, The Upside of Stress, is one of my personal picks for the best productivity books out there. I love the way Kelly frames the importance of movement and exercise. Instead of explaining it as a project to make our bodies fit within societal norms or as a means to reduce risk of chronic health concerns down the road, The Joy of Movement argues that exercise is a key piece of the puzzle that will help you live a more engaged, happy life. The book is highly actionable, and in our chat Kelly shares some interesting tactics and tidbits on how you can use movement as a way to change your mindset around stress and create more connection with the people and things you love. Here’s some of what she had to say. 1. The type of movement doesn’t matter. Embracing movement doesn’t mean you suddenly need to start running marathons (a relief to me). Any dose of movement—be it three minutes or three hours—is one of the easiest things you can do to boost your mood and give you a hit of resilience or hope. So whether it’s flailing your arms to your favorite song or tapping your fingers on the table, Kelly advises us to start where we are, do what we can, and think about using as much of our body as possible. 2. Exercise and movement can help you deal with social anxiety. This is something Kelly found in her own life. She describes her default temperament as shy, sensitive, and anxious—but goes on to explain how exercise makes her better and braver. Movement triggers the release of endocannabinoids, neurotransmitters that not only reduce fear and anxiety but also promote positive social engagement and increase the warm glow you get when you’re around others. It’s like a dose of medicine that makes it easier to connect with other people. 3. Group movement can bring more benefits than individual movement—even when it’s online. Moving together creates a shared experience and sense of community which fosters further bonding and trust. This can be everything from traditional team sports to a zumba class to running ultramarathons. Though the latter typically evokes images of uber-fit athletes charging alone through the mountains, it’s actually the ability to be supported by others and the feeling of being part of a collective activity that allows ultramarathoners to benefit from that same sense of group connection and community. While it’s admittedly not the best time to be thinking of group activities, we can actually gain the same benefits when joining a group exercise class on Zoom. Research even supports that moving alongside avatars—virtual human beings!—can have the same effect. 4. Head outside for some green exercise. Moving alone in nature could actually be more powerful than moving together while outdoors. I personally start most mornings by making a cup of tea and going for a short hike. Kelly shares that moving in nature can be a shortcut to the calm state of mind attained through meditation. By breathing in gulps of fresh air, feeling the sun on our skin, and listening to the birdsong, nature allows us to take in new sensations and thoughts while letting go of the stressors of the past and future. 5. The movement you choose can help reveal or strengthen parts of your personality. While any movement is better than none, Kelly says you can also strategically focus on a form of movement that will help you experience parts of yourself that you value. She shares a personal example of how learning mixed martial arts and kickboxing have helped her feel more brave, and have proven to her that she can fight for herself and for others. I could go on and on about what Kelly shared during our chat, but you’re better off just listening to the podcast. I hope you enjoy our conversation! The post Want to become happier? Get moving! appeared first on A Life of Productivity.
30 minutes | 8 months ago
30: The Best Productivity Books
Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes, 24s. It’s pretty skimmable, though. Podcast Length: 29 minutes, 30s (link to play podcast at bottom of post). The Amazon links below are affiliate links—I get a cut of sales. I’ll be donating what I make to the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Educational Fund. The best productivity books more than pay for themselves: they teach you how to save time, so you more than earn back the time you spend inside them. So which productivity books will help you out the most? Here are 10 of my absolute favorites—with a mini review of each one, with what you’ll get out of reading each book. Getting Things Done, by David Allen Mini Review: Getting Things Done is bigger than a book— it’s a bona fide movement. If you find it hard to focus because your mind is cluttered—with tasks, commitments, and other obligations—pick this book up. Also worthwhile: the Getting Things Done Workbook, which serves as a good companion to the main book. Linchpin, by Seth Godin Mini Review: This book will teach you how to stand out at work—regardless of whether you work for someone or for yourself. Linchpin provides you with a blueprint for becoming indispensable, regardless of what your “art” happens to be. I Know How She Does It, by Laura Vanderkam Mini Review: The concept behind this book is fascinating: Laura Vanderkam pored through the detailed time logs of highly-successful women who have kids at home, who also make over $100,000 a year. In the book, she shares the tips she learned from these women, including the importance of sleep, and what time wasters they didn’t invest in (like watching hardly any TV). Off the Clock, by Laura Vanderkam Mini Review: Another fantastic book from Laura Vanderkam, Off the Clock makes the case that, regardless of how busy we are, we have more time than we think we do. I walked away with countless strategies for developing deeper relationships and indulging in more intentional relaxation. Deep Work, by Cal Newport Mini Review: Deep Work digs into how we should structure our days in order to be most productive—and makes the compelling case that, when we do knowledge work for a living, the ability to focus on cognitively-demanding tasks is one of the most powerful skills we can develop. This book i isn’t just worth reading once—it’s worth reading each time you find yourself surrounded by an increased number of distractions. I’m not a fan of when authors include their own books in these roundups, so I don’t. If you’re looking for some reading beyond the books on this list, though, here’s a link to my books! The Upside of Stress, by Kelly McGonigal Mini Review: As Kelly McGonigal explores in the book, stress is not always a bad thing—if harnessed correctly, stressful situations can lead us to experience a more meaningful life. The Upside of Stress is an engaging, counterintuitive book that will change how you think about stress—as well as the challenges you face in general. How Not to Die, by Michael Greger Mini Review: This book may add years to your life. In How Not to Die, Michael Greger explores the foods we should be eating in order to live the longest—and everything in the book is backed up by scores of academic research. This is what makes Greger’s books unique: he starts with the science, and works backwards to how we should live our lives in order to take advantage of the latest research. Atomic Habits, by James Clear Mini Review: If you’re able to buy just one book about habits, make it Atomic Habits. This book provides you with a comprehensive overview of how habits work, and the latest science behind forming new habits and breaking old ones— Atomic Habits is one of the most comprehensive guides to forming new habits available. Rapt, by Winnifred Gallagher Mini Review: This book, by Winnifred Gallagher, explores how we can manage our attention in order to become happier. Years after reading Rapt, its lessons stick with me. If you’re looking for ways to become more present in your life, this book is a great place to start. Mindset, by Carol Dweck Mini Review: Mindset, by Carol Dweck, is another classic productivity book. It explores how we can develop a “growth mindset”—how we can see ourselves as someone capable of great change. The book not only digs into what a growth mindset is, it also explores how we can develop one in our own lives. The post 10 productivity books that let you earn back time appeared first on A Life of Productivity.
23 minutes | 8 months ago
29: The Art of Laziness
Takeaway: Idleness, when practiced properly, can actually make you more productive and creative. Podcast Length: 22 minutes, 56s (link to play podcast at bottom of post). Today I wrote a piece for CNBC.com on how it’s okay to be a bit lazy right now. Of course, not all of us have the luxury of being lazy during a pandemic. But regardless of your situation, I hope you check the article out. Even if you have less time than usual, right now we deserve a break more than ever—and we also deserve a bit more kindness from ourselves. Click here to read the article (there’s a link below to this week’s podcast on the same topic, too). Hope you have a good week (all considered!),Chris The post Yes, you have permission to be lazy right now appeared first on A Life of Productivity.
29 minutes | 9 months ago
28: The Chemistry of Calm
Takeaway: Henry Emmons’ book, The Chemistry of Calm, is a practical and tactical deep dive into what makes us anxious and what helps us find calm. In our interview, Henry talks about how flexibility and acceptance—with ourselves and with the world around us—can help us find calm in these stressful times. Estimated Reading Time: 1 minute, 26s. Podcast Length: 28 minutes, 45s (link to play podcast at the bottom of post). We’ve spent the last few episodes of the podcast talking about calm—and how it can seem so elusive right now. All it takes is a quick glance at the news or social media to feel the onslaught of panic and anxiety. There’s not always an obvious way to set aside our restless feelings and attain a sense of calm, especially when many of our normal coping mechanisms are off the table. I wanted to get another take, and was joined on the podcast by an expert on the topic: Henry Emmons, a clinical psychiatrist and the author of The Chemistry of Calm. I was curious about how Henry views the relationship between calm and anxiety, especially at a time when the world is collectively so far down the “anxiety” end of the spectrum. Interestingly, Henry considers calm to be our natural state. At the same time, he acknowledges it’s absolutely normal to be experiencing some level of stress or anxiety right now. At its core, the coronavirus crisis is a survival threat, and being alert and on guard is what we’re biologically programmed to do. We’ve spoken a lot on this podcast about the tactics you can take to find calm, including active relaxation, stepping away from the digital world and into the analog one, and creating a gratitude list. As Henry shared, flexibility is another trait he’s seen help people get through these recent lifestyle changes and attain a sense of calm. Flexibility and an openness to adapt can be a secret weapon against fear and anxiety—whether we’re dealing with a global pandemic or a stressful situation in the office. It’s what allows us to accept what is happening in the world around us, internalize and process that reality, and use it to guide life decisions. This sense of flexibility doesn’t only apply to the external world—it also affects our inner mindset, too. It offers us the ability to treat ourselves with kindness and be flexible with the expectations we place on ourselves, especially in the context of our current crisis. This self-acceptance and kindness can help us push back against the expectation that we should be working at 100% productivity, capable of balancing homeschooling with team video calls, or baking the perfect loaf of sourdough bread. Henry sees rigidity as the enemy of joy and calm. Being kind to ourselves doesn’t mean settling for mediocrity and stasis. Instead, it grounds us in a mindset where we accept where we are, what our current limitations may be, and how we can realistically move forward. The Chemistry of Calm looks at how we can use a whole host of tactics to reduce anxiety. Here are a few of the other topics our conversation touched on: Meditation as a universal self-care practice. While it takes a bit of work to get started, a meditation ritual can help us respond to stressful situations effectively and with a sense of calm. See this time as a personal retreat. This pandemic is a break from life as usual and, for those of us who are fortunate to be able to do so, we can view this as a chance to slow down and reconnect with our loved ones and the world around us. We’ve got a lot to learn from nature. All other plant and animal species take the time to rest, regroup, and rebound—the opposite of our productivity mindset. Slowing down can be a good thing. A big thanks to Henry for joining me on the show. He shared so many more interesting tidbits, and they’re really useful in changing the way we think about calm and anxiety, especially at a time like this. Enjoy our conversation and take care of yourself! The post Flexibility as a Source of Inner Calm appeared first on A Life of Productivity.
23 minutes | 9 months ago
27: Procrastination Triggers
Takeaway: We procrastinate when a task is boring, frustrating, difficult, ambiguous, unstructured, or lacking in personal meaning or intrinsic rewards. By reversing these triggers—a few suggestions for how to do this are below—we can overpower our urge to procrastinate. Estimated Reading Time: 1 minute, 41s. Podcast Length: 23 minutes, 24s (link to play podcast at bottom of post). Procrastination is a fascinating topic—and just as fascinating is the science behind it. Research suggests that there are seven attributes a task can have that make us more likely to put it off. We’re far more likely to procrastinate when a task is: Boring (e.g., doing our taxes);Frustrating (e.g., learning a complicated new skill);Difficult (e.g., solving a math proof);Ambiguous (e.g., training for a marathon);Unstructured (e.g., undertaking a home renovation project);Lacking in intrinsic rewards (e.g., not getting feedback while we’re writing a 50-page report);Not meaningful (e.g., cleaning up the home office). The more of these attributes a task has, the more likely we are to put it off. On this week’s podcast, we dig into how to flip these triggers so we can use the science of procrastination to our advantage. There are countless ways to do this, depending on which attributes a task has. For example, we can: Form a simple plan to make boring tasks more fun (e.g., buying an audiobook for doing mindless chores around the house);Set a time limit for frustrating tasks (e.g., making a game out of something we don’t want to do, by filing as many papers as we possibly can within 20 minutes);Work with someone on difficult tasks, so we have more support while doing them (e.g., hiring a virtual piano teacher, instead of learning via an app);Make a plan for ambiguous and unstructured tasks (e.g., taking 20 minutes to map out next steps for a home renovation project);Treat ourselves while doing unrewarding tasks (e.g., putting $1 in a frivolous spending account for every five minutes we spend on our taxes);Journal about tasks we find meaningless in order to connect with them on a deeper level (e.g., journaling about why cleaning our office will make us feel calm as we work). Procrastination is a human phenomenon—everyone on the planet puts things off. The next time you notice yourself procrastinating on something, bring some awareness to what triggers the task is setting off, and form a simple plan to overcome them. You’ll get a lot more done as a result. The post The 7 Triggers of Procrastination appeared first on A Life of Productivity.
20 minutes | 10 months ago
26: Strategies for Calm
Takeaway: Calm is elusive right now. 5 ways to find it: become engaged with something every day, spend more time in the analog world, meditate (or journal), write down what you’re grateful for, and find something to savor every day. Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes, 23s. Podcast Length: 19 minutes, 53s (link to play podcast at bottom of post). These days, calm can feel elusive. Anxiety comes and goes in waves, and, as I wrote about a couple of weeks back, it’s hard to be productive right now. It’s calm that we need most, not productivity. While this is a blog about productivity, this article is about cultivating calm. Whether or not you’re working right now, investing in your calm can help you accomplish the things you want to do. Instead of forcing yourself to get work done, a calm mindset allows you to become kinder to yourself throughout the day. You’ll be able to focus with greater ease when your mind is settled, as your busy mind won’t generate distracting thoughts that derail your attention as you work. If you’re looking for a few strategies to work more calm into your day, below are a few of the ways that I’m investing in myself (that we chat about on this week’s podcast). I’m confident they’ll work for you, too. Become engaged with something (anything). We all need something to be engaged with throughout the day, regardless of whether we’re working or not. We rarely feel as unmotivated as when we have nothing to do. Right now, some of us have more time to spare, and others of us have less (especially those of us who have to work with kids at home). If you find yourself with more free time than usual, consider taking on a big, new project. Double down on learning a new programming language, or an instrument. Undertake a new home renovation project, or take an online class. If you’re looking for more calm, look for something to become engaged with. The busyness that comes with engagement crowds out feelings of anxiety.Step away from the digital world and into the analog one. We all live two lives: an analog life (in the physical world), and a digital life (in, of course, the digital world). We have fewer activities to engage with in the physical world right now. The gym is closed, we don’t have to drive to work, and our favorite coffee shop is temporarily out of commission. This means that many of us are spending more time than we usually do in the digital world. Here’s the problem, though: right now, the digital world can be depressing as hell. If you’re finding yourself stressed out because of the time you’re spending on your devices, disconnect, and find analog activities to connect with instead—like getting physical activity, painting, cooking, or reading a book. Generally-speaking, the more time we spend engaging with the analog world, the calmer we feel.Recall what you’re grateful for. Each night, with your partner, with a friend, or on your own, recall three things you’re grateful for. Or, after you finish reading this blog post, write down 10 things you appreciate in your life. Expressing gratitude is a shortcut to feeling a sense of abundance, and it allows you to train your brain into looking out for what’s positive around you—both useful skills right now. Here are 100 suggestions, for things to be grateful for, sent in by readers.Meditate or journal, even if just for a few minutes. Meditation allows you to approach your day with equanimity, rather than a sense of anxiety. It also helps you come to terms with how things change. (If you don’t know where to start, I wrote this guide which has everything you need to get started. It’s easier than you think.) If you’ve tried meditation and it isn’t for you, try journaling, in order to reflect on how you’re feeling. Both practices have different effects, but they both allow you to create some distance between yourself and the current situation.Find something to savor every day. It’s impossible to both savor something and to feel anxious at the same time. Write a list of things you savor—video chats with loved ones, delicious meals, or your daily workout—and make a deliberate effort each day to savor one thing on your list. Tonight, I’m going to savor me a delicious burrito. The above strategies take a bit of effort, but they’re all proven ways of introducing more calm into your life. If you’re feeling a bit anxious right now, pick a few things from this list and give them a shot. I’m confident they’ll help you out. The post 5 ways to find calm right now appeared first on A Life of Productivity.
28 minutes | 10 months ago
25: Working From Home
Takeaway: Working from home isn’t easy during the best of times—let alone during a global crisis. Below are some tips for working from home when you find it difficult to focus. These strategies should help you do two things at once: both focus, and become kinder to yourself. Estimated Reading Time: 7 minutes, 11s. (But it’s skimmable.) Podcast Length: 27 minutes, 45s (link to play podcast at bottom of post). These days, it can be tough to strike a balance between staying informed and staying focused. Compared to fighting a global pandemic, work doesn’t feel that important. And compared to a pandemic, it probably isn’t. But this doesn’t change the fact that many of us are working from home right now—and that we still have to get things done while focusing on work and keeping up with a steady stream of news updates. This isn’t “normal” working from home by any means. As you settle into a new routine, though, I’ve included a few of my favorite tips to work from home during difficult times below. These are strategies that have worked for me, as I try to find a balance right now. I think they’ll work for you, too. — Give yourself time to settle into important tasks, and be patient with yourself. A busy mind makes it difficult to focus. Give yourself a few more minutes than usual to settle into important tasks that require a higher degree of concentration. You’ll probably need that time, so your mind can settle down a bit. Don’t be too hard on yourself during this adjustment—pretty much everyone is experiencing this right now. Take the time you would usually spend commuting and use it for something slow, or to savor something you enjoy. With the time you’d otherwise spend commuting, take a walk, cook a meal, or even do a yoga video on YouTube (here’s my favorite YouTube yoga channel). During stressful times, we tend to fill the white space on our calendar with distraction, so we can get our mind off of what’s stressing us. Try not to fill your extra time each day with anxiety scrolling through twitter, or repeatedly checking the news. This will give you the time you need to process each day’s events. Totally power down your phone. Our phones are the most distracting device we own. As Seth Godin has written, “When you bought your first smartphone, did you know you would spend more than 1,000 hours a year looking at it? Months later, can you remember how you spent those hours?” Our phone provides us with validation and feedback—which our work often doesn’t. Especially during a difficult time, this makes our phone more distracting than usual. To not be tempted by it, try powering your phone down completely as you work. If you’re getting less sunlight these days, consider buying a happy light, or taking a vitamin D supplement. In countries that have instituted lockdowns, people are unable to leave their homes, including for walks. If this is the situation you’re in, and you’re getting less sun exposure than usual, I’d recommend supplementing your diet with vitamin D, or picking up a ”happy light”—especially if you find that your mood and energy dip in the wintertime. Here’s my happy light of choice, which Wirecutter recommends. Do focused work in the morning, before connecting to the news. One study that exposed participants to just three minutes of negative news in the morning found that participants were 27% less likely to rate themselves as happy at the end of the day. The information you consume each day matters. This is even true when it comes to when you consume information. To prevent the news of the day from dampening your mood for the rest of the day, consider reconnecting with the news of the day after you finish up your most important tasks in the morning. Schedule news and distraction time. On top of staying away from the news first thing in the morning (if you can), consider scheduling time to catch up. This allows you to tend to distractions intentionally, rather than checking in with news websites when you feel stressed out. This small change also makes you feel more in control of your day. If you feel anxious, work on tasks that don’t require deep concentration or thinking. Right now is an anxious time for pretty much everyone. Our feelings of anxiety usually aren’t consistent throughout the day, though; they ebb and flow. When you’re feeling especially anxious, consider working on tasks that don’t require deep concentration or thinking—and use these easy tasks to warm up to more challenging ones later on. As the day progresses, be sure to match what you’re working on with how you’re feeling. If you have kids at home, look after them in split shifts if your partner is at home too. My friend Laura Vanderkam has a great write-up for how her and her husband are taking care of their five kids while they’re both working from home—including taking care of them in split shifts, while trading the occasional hour or two with one another throughout the day. If you’re home alone with kids, also use morning and nighttime hours—while your kids are asleep—to your advantage. Provide your kids with especially rewarding distractions (like screen time) for when you’re on conference calls or in important meetings. Create an “invisibility mode” with everyone else in the house. If you’re self-isolating with a roommate, partner, or your family, it’s important to have some outward signal that you’re working, so they don’t interrupt you unnecessarily. I have a home office, so I just close the office door. My wife, who only sporadically worked from home before today, either wears headphones or sticks a post-it note on the back of computer that says that she’s focused. Communicate more richly with your team. The presence of other people is motivating. If you’re going from being face-to-face with colleagues every day to working from home, you’re probably going to feel like you have a bit less energy throughout the day. For this reason, make a deliberate effort to communicate in a richer way with those on your team. If you’d usually send someone a message over Slack, pick up the phone instead. If you’d usually chat with someone over the phone, suggest meeting on Skype or Zoom. Don’t keep chips in the house. If there are chips—or other unhealthy snacks—in the house while I’m working from home, I’ll devour them all in a day or two. If you’re spending most of your time at home, it’s important to not have unhealthy snacks or other unsavory distractions out of the house. (My wife and I have a running joke that “corona calories” don’t count, but I have the sneaking suspicion that they do.) Unhealthy snacks can also sap your energy later on, making you less energized and productive. Give yourself a to-do list every day. Writing a to-do list each morning is a great, simple way to introduce more structure into your day. Don’t have too many items on your list, and deploy the Rule of 3 (my favorite productivity ritual, in which you set three intentions each day) as well. Integrate exercise into every single day. If you’re forced to self-isolate, getting daily exercise is not a suggestion—it’s pretty much a requirement. Exercise supports your mental health by balancing your brain chemistry, gives you energy, and is one of the best stress-relievers in existence. If you’re working from home, you’ll be getting less physical activity each day as a result. You need to compensate for this by exercising more at home. If you can, order a kettlebell or resistance bands online. Blow the dust off your old fitness gear in the basement, and get your heart rate up. Find a local fitness studio that’s now posting classes online or take advantage of the many online workout channels. Take a half-hour walk outside every day, if you can. However possible, get around 30 minutes of daily physical activity. Have rituals that you depend upon. The world shutting down has a way of upending pretty much all of our daily rituals. Because of this, you’ll need to introduce new daily rituals into your own life, to introduce predictability, consistency, and a feeling of control into your workday. A few suggestions for doing this: have a daily time at which you start and finish up work; set a dinnertime each night with your family; and set up a dedicated workspace for yourself. Pick your music choices deliberately. The best music for productivity has two characteristics: it’s both simple (so it doesn’t distract us) and familiar (so we don’t think much about it as we’re listening to it). Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of lo-fi hip hop, and loving it—it has no words, so it’s super simple, and it’s pretty familiar (the songs seem to blend into one another). I’m also a big fan of listening to songs on Repeat One as I work. To use music to become more productive, listen to anything that’s both simple and familiar, or try going without any if that’s your preference. Relegate one device to be your distractions device. This is a distracting time. If you have more than one computer—including an iPad—use the extra device as your distractions device. This way, you can use one device to check up on everything: the news, your social media feeds, and messages from friends. This also allows you focus more easily in front of your main computer, when it’s time to work. Track your time. To track your time, keep a notepad on your desk as you work, and write down what you’re working on throughout the day in 15-minute blocks of time. There are also lots of apps that you can use to do this on your computer for screen-related work. This simple ritual introduces an extra layer of accountability into your days. When you’re mindful of what you’re working on throughout the day, you spend your time far more intelligently. — If you’re finding it challenging to focus and be productive right now, you’re certainly not alone. I’ve personally found the above strategies enormously helpful for getting more accomplished. I’m confident that you will, too. The post How to Work From Home (During a Difficult Time) appeared first on A Life of Productivity.
13 minutes | a year ago
24: Your Most Important Tasks
Takeaway: Not all tasks in your work are created equal. To identify your most important tasks, make a list of all the activities you do over a given month, and then pick the most important one; the one through which you accomplish the most. Then, pick your second and third most important activities. Estimated Reading Time: 2 minutes, 35s. Podcast Length: 2 minutes, 35s (link to play podcast at bottom of post). Not all tasks in your work are created equal. Here’s how to weed out the tasks on your plate that are the most important: Make a list of every single activity you do in your job over the course of a given month.Ask yourself: If you could do just one thing on your list of activities, day in, day out, every single day, which one leads you to accomplish the most? Which is the one task that adds the most value to your team, and makes you the most productive? Which one is the most consequential?If you could only do one additional activity on your list during the day, which is your second most important activity that adds the most value?Which is your third most important activity? These are your most important tasks; the ones through which, for every minute you spend on them, you accomplish significantly much more relative to everything else on your list. – As you do this activity, keep a few things in mind: Find a way to cut everything else on your list. When you can, stop doing the activities that remain on your list. If you can’t, plan ways to spend less time on them. If something is a distraction, tame it. If you have a team, delegate as many of the tasks that remain on your list to them as possible. If you don’t have a team, hire an intern or a virtual assistant to help you. If something is a distraction you can’t tame, block off time to tend to it. Sit down at a coffee shop, without your phone, to decide how to deal with everything else on the list. You’ll make back the time you spend doing this one hundred times over.Keep your three most important activities somewhere visible as you internalize them, such as on a sheet of paper on your desk, or at the very top of your to do list. This lets you consider what’s actually important as you work and plan your day, and you can make them the focus of your three daily intentions.If something that remains on your list is fun, don’t cut it! The point of investing in your productivity isn’t to turn you into some mindless robot—it’s to let you do more of what you love. My three most important tasks are writing, researching productivity, and doing talks. Outside of this, I also love coaching, even though I make less money doing it, and I’m only able to help out one person at a time. But honestly, I don’t really care. Because it’s fun. This activity is one that I run many of my coaching clients through, and regardless of how many times I guide people through it, they invariably settle on the fact that they have three most important tasks. A couple of people found two important tasks, but so far, no one has had more than three. Set aside five minutes to try this activity out for yourself. The activity is simple, but the insights it provides are profound. If you’re like me, you won’t go back to working the same way afterward. The post A five-minute activity to discover your most important tasks appeared first on A Life of Productivity.
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