Productivity

We associate the quantity of choice a person has available to them with the amount of freedom that person possess.

Freedom is good. Therefore, we assume that choice must also be good – and to an extent, it is. However, there’s a turning point at which our freedom to choose from a growing list of options no longer increases our level of happiness. In fact, over saturation of choice can actually diminish our happiness.

In the early 2000s, a scientist name Barry Schwartz popularised this idea with a challenge western society’s obsession with generating freedom through an ever increasing number of options.

Image result for paradox of choice schwartz

After conducting multiple studies, he wrote a book called The Paradox of Choice which argued that while abundance of choice provides some short term satisfaction in the moment (and keeps us coming back for more), the more options a person has available to them, the less likely they are to be satisfied with the result of their choice.

To demonstrate, imagine that you have to choose between two restaurants. You have no way to look at the menus, but you know that the first restaurant features a menu with four main courses, while the second has sixteen main courses on theirs.

Which restaurant are you more likely to try?

Statistically, you’d probably go with the second, and there’s a lot of sense in this; if there’s four times as many main dishes at the second restaurant, there’s a better chance that they’ll have a meal perfectly suited to your taste.

At first glance, it makes logical sense to give yourself as many options as possible. We are hardwired not to limit ourselves, even when it comes to something as basic as dinner.

But when we take a closer look, Schwartz’s paradox of choice comes into play.

He discovered that in circumstances where people had to decide between an outlet with more choice versus an outlet with less, it was true that those who opted for more choice, the ones who went to the second restaurant and scoured over the ingredients in all sixteen dishes before finally making a decision, reported being more satisfied with their choice than those who limited their options and made a quick dinner selection. But only by a tiny margin.

What’s fascinating is that while the group who went to the first restaurant didn’t think about the choice again, when asked about their decision after the fact (once the meal was over) those who went to the second restaurant started to second guess the choice they made. Their satisfaction, despite being mildy higher at the time of consumption, took a hit once they started to consider all the options they opted not to choose.

As our options increase, so do our expectations that we’ll be able find the perfect option.

The more options we have to forgo when making a choice, the higher the possibility that we’ll make the wrong one.

More choice does not equate to more happiness because choice itself is a double edged sword.

When we are constantly saturated with choice, it’s not uncommon to experience choice paralysis. A sensation which often results in no choice being made at all.

While sometimes it doesn’t feel like it, we have a lot more control over the choices we present ourselves with than we feel like we do.

Do your best to find a balance.

All effective teams have three things in common;

  • A shared goal which excites them;
  • communication strategies which enable them;
  • and accountablily methods which keep them on track.

At the end of the day, this leaves you responsible for being a part of things you care about; communicating with respect, honesty and kindness; and doing the work you say you’ll do.

If your current workplace prohibits you from doing one of these things, you’re in the wrong workplace.

If you’re unable to do these things in any workplace, the change probably needs to come from you.

Receiving an unexpected call from a good friend is a delight; especially if they’re not calling because the need something.

Many of us have resorted to sending messages when we intend to have little conversations, because it’s quicker, easier and usually more convenient.

We shoot people messages to check-in, to organise, and to notify, because it’s a quick time save – if the person isn’t available in the moment you’re trying to contact them, it doesn’t matter.

By replacing dynamic conversation with text based alternative, we’re missing opportunites for connection.

For a week, try calling someone first every time you get the the urge to start a conversation which could be had over the phone by sending a message.

If they respond, great! After doing this repeatedly, see if you notice any difference in how connected you feel to your circles.

When people don’t respond, that’s okay too! Just send them the message you intended to send from the beginning.

I’m willing to bet that the extra 10 seconds invested listening to dial tones will reward you with immensley richer conversation.

The reason lottery winners wind up depressed is that our happiness depends not on what we have, but what we have in relation to what we’re accustomed to.

It’s why a getting a NutriBullet is so exciting… for about three weeks.

Once having a nice blender is something you’re accustomed to though, you’re far less likely to actually enjoy using it.

Image result for nutri bullet
Photo: Michael Hession

The shine on 20 million dollars lasts a little longer, but the novelty of driving an Mercedes wears off just like the novelty of blending spinach seamlessly into smoothies.

This isn’t the same at the bottom end of the financial scale.

Not having enough to get by is horrendously taxing on one’s happiness.

Once your basic needs are met, satisfaction lives in the process.

Setting big goals is less about achieving them than it is about the happiness we enjoy taking strides toward them.

Lean the instrument, write the book, make the ruckus, or play the sport because the pursuit itself delights you.

Just a couple of generations ago the dream life involved working your ass off for an ever increasing salary until you were 60.

If you were successful, you would have been investing portions of all those pay-checks into assets, which would increase in value over time – hopefully just enough to let you retire comfortably and leave something for your kids.

That’s lovely, but here’s the thing; robots are getting pretty good at doing the stuff we currently pay people to do.

There won’t be many honest livings made in driving a truck, taxi or Uber come 2030, and the law graduates aren’t safe either.

This puts young people in a pickle.

As unemployment rates rise and entry level jobs get automated into the abyss, how is anyone meant to make enough money to do all that smart long term investing we’ve been encouraged to do?

We need to learn to thrive in the gig economy by honing our enterprise skills.

By investing our time into brand.

By creating things which have the potential to generate value that exceeds our own input until something sticks.

By making a ruckus.

We have to invest in ourselves, and we need to start now.

I’ve been trying to spend less time aimlessly bouncing between social media apps while using my phone.

The problem I’ve had in the past is that every time I’ve tried to detox, I’ve relied on discipline to keep me from sliding back to subconscious scrolling.

There is one trick which I’ve implemented that has had a huge lasting impact;

Delete everything non-essential from your phone’s homepage.

And I mean everything.

Keep your calendar, important emergency contacts, and maps if you use it a lot.

The rest should remain buried beneath the search function of your phone.

By forcing yourself to use the search function on your phone to type in the name of the app you’re trying to open, you’re far more likely to be making conscious decisions about what you’re doing on your phone.

This seems counter intuitive at first. Why would you strip away functionality from your phone’s perfectly good user interface?

Aren’t I wasting time searching every time I need to use an app?

And it’s true. It takes an extra five seconds or so to open Instagram, every single time. But they aren’t wasted.

These five seconds act as a barrier which protects your attention.

Five seconds is enough time to consider what your purpose for opening an app is; is there a specific reason I’m doing this, or am I burning time while avoiding another task?

It’s a buffer, a tool to help you make active choices about how you spend your time.

If this sounds like too much hasstle, try installing a screentime tracker like Flipd.

I was resistant too. But after coming face to face with the time I spent across these apps each day, five seconds stopped sounding so bad.

Our attention is even more valuable than our time, and we trade it every day.

We live in an attention economy.

Businesses bid for it constantly. On billboards, backs of busses, and through buzzes in your pocket.

How frugal we are with our attention influences every aspect of our lives.

Where can you see your attention seeping through the gaps of things which don’t matter?

Good time management means nothing without good attention management.

Fail to focus your attention, and all that time you saved is waste.

Now’s the time to stocktake and trim the fat.

Hobbies are things we regularly do for pleasure.

They tend to be fun, nieche activities involving some form of social element. Our hobbies recharge us – in part because it doesn’t matter if we’re bad at them.

Pursuits are like hobbies, except for the fact that gradual improvement is at the core of our enjoyment of them.

Going bowling with your friends for a laugh once a fortnight is a hobby. After a few months, perhaps you’re a better bowler than average. Some nights you might even get lucky and put together an impressive score. But the vast majority of your time bowling would still be considered leisure time.

If you were treating bowling as a pursuit, while you might still have the same fun fortnightly game with your friends, the majority of the time you spent thinking about bowling would revolve around the question;

How can I be better?

You’d find time to practice on your technique, you’d probably invest in your own ball and shoes and you’d study footage of professional bowlers with awe.

You’d be obsessed with progressing and improving, because becoming a better bowler is the fun part of pursuing bowling.

All pursuits require the processing of feedback in order to innovate our approach to the activity.

In bowling, the feedback is clear; you either knocked the pins over or you didn’t.

Until you can score five perfect games in a row, there’s technique to work on.

When you find a pursuit you’re passionate about, there is an intense gratification which sprouts from putting in the work to improve. You bowl to get better at the bowling.

The fortnightly hobbyist has no interest in the intensity or focus required to pursue bowling.

When bowling is a hobby, the fun is showing up. The fun is the bowling.

When it’s a pursuit, the fun is the result of consistently showing up. The fun is the bowling because it’s making you better at the bowling.

Idenfying these patterns in the things you love to do and making clear decisions about what you’re willing to suck at is can liberating and quite valuable.

Pursuits demand tenacity and a refusal to fail. They’re high stakes and hard work, but far more gratifying tham hobbies long term. Pursuits are a commitment to growth.

Hobbies provide a special kind of short term satisfaction which we all crave. They’re low stakes and relaxing. Hobbies are the time where we can give ourselves permission to fail. The results don’t matter because taking part in the activity is it’s own result.

We should all have both hobbies and pursuits, but we should also know the difference.

Making the bed is usually the last thing on my mind in the morning.

If I’m not rushing to the gym, I’m usually calculating how long it will take to get changed and brush my teeth as I try to figure out whether or not I have enough time to scoff breakfast before leaving the house.

Obviously, this is far from an ideal morning routine.

(I’m working on it)

We should make our beds in the morning not just because it feels better to come home to at the end of the day, but because the feeling of accomplishment associated is one of the easiest ways to set yourself up for a productive morning; which can snowball all the way throughout your day.

“If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.”

Admiral William H. McRaven

Making your bed is a low hanging fruit; you can enjoy significant benefit despite the fact it takes next to no time or energy.

When we’re able to build habits around these low hanging fruit, the little effort it does take to accomplish them reduces even further. So much so, that eventually you won’t even have to think about them.

Making your bed after you wake up should be as intuitive as washing your hands after you use the bathroom; if it’s not completely automatic, something is probably wrong.

Build habits around the small things you can do which provide the largest benefits, and you’ll be constantly generating your own wellbeing.

What’s your low hanging fruit?

Have you always kind of wanted to meditate, but never got around to it?

Ever wanted to exercise more often, but just couldn’t seem to muster the motivation?

Want to be a writer, but never find the time to write?

Treat yourself like a professional, and do the work. Then keep doing the work until it doesn’t feel like work anymore.

These things take ten minutes out of your morning. Unless you’re a parent to young children, (in which case, why are you even here? Go get some rest) there is really no excuse.

A doctor washes her hands before every surgery whether her hands are dirty or not.

It’s not something she thinks about doing, it’s something she does.

That’s what a professional does.

I don’t want an authentic surgeon who says, “I don’t really feel like doing knee surgery today.” I want a professional who shows up whatever they feel like.

Seth Godin

We have to hold ourselves accountable to building these habits, especially around the things we care about.

I don’t yet make my bed every morning, but I will. Because I care about having good days.

I didn’t used to write every day, now I do. Because I care about my practice.

This stuff is simple, but far from easy. The ball is in your court.

Don’t ever stop striving to be a work in progress.

Be a professional. Do the work.

I’ve never been a fast reader.

In fact, unless it’s an exceptional book, my attention span struggles to with written text. As most of the books I ‘read’ are audiobooks, reading quickly is just never a skill I’d invested in.

This was until a few days ago, when I stumbled across a ten minute Tim Ferris video which changed the game.

I’ve been trying out the techniques he describes for a few days, and I can’t believe nobody taught me how to do this sooner.

The tip which blew my mind has to do with taking advantage of your peripheral vision.

When we were first learning to read, we had to focus intently on the letters which made up each word. As we did this, our eyes were trained to jump from word to word as we read across the page.

Unfortunately, most of us didn’t adapt our reading style once we started to recognise words without needing to break them down letter by letter.

Now we can!

By progressively indenting your focal points further into the centre of the page, you can eventually end up only needing to focus on the central third of a chunk of text, as your peripherals allow you to read the first and last third of the page without needing to direct your focus away from the centre.

Never before had I considered that I could read words in my periphery.

I understand how strange this sounds, and I’ll admit that it does feel weird for the first few pages.

But once you adjust, you’ll find it hard to go back. My reading speed has more than doubled in less than a week.

There are a couple of other techniques to add to this one in the video below, which I highly recommend checking it out.

It’ll take ten minutes of your time, but has already saved me hours.