Productivity

We are the accumulation of our long term habits.

If you have long term bad habits, the best thing you can do for yourself and those you care about is to replace them with good ones.

Habits are the things you do which make you, you.

Sometimes people get habits confused with goals, or with jobs.

‘I’m going to write every day until I’ve written my book,’ is not a habit.

‘I’m going to write everyday,’ is a habit.

Any habit with an end date is not a habit.

Goals get accomplished when your long term habits are good ones. Good habits put you in the best position to do good work, and good work leads to accomplishing big goals.

Bad habits provide short term relief and stunt long term progress. They get in your way.

Identify your bad habits and turn them into good ones.

Mine worst habit at the moment is c(ocaine)reating mess when I’m stressed, so I’m trying to turn tidying up into something I do to relieve stress.

It’s going to be hard work forcing myself to do it, and even harder work to find joy in it.

But it’ll only be hard for another week or three, then I’ll be dusting for the hell of it.

Your brain is as malleable as you allow it to be. Grab it like a ball of play-dough and get to work.

If you’re still having trouble, harness the power of accountability. Tell ten people that you’re going to change, and you probably will.

If ten isn’t enough, tell more and more people until the thought of letting the all down, admitting defeat and telling them you’ve failed is so exhausting that you might as well just do the work and make the change.

When your habits serve your goals and keep you happy and healthy in the process, life is at its best. Don’t get complacent.

Be the change you want to see in yourself, then worry about the world.

(To be clear, I was joking about the cocaine.)

When (not if) we make mistakes that need to be avoided in the future we have two options; tell ourselves that next time we’ll be more careful, or build a better system which limit the chance of the mistake happening again.

Being careful might prevent us from making the mistake short term, but what happens when we become complacent again? What happens when enough time has passed for us to forget the consequences of the mistake, or when someone new comes along who hasn’t made the mistake before? Careful is important, but it isn’t enough.

This is why we build systems.

‘If it matters enough to be careful, it matters enough to build a better system.’

Seth Godin

Some systems are huge, others are tiny. Systems become more complicated when the cost of the mistake is high, or when the number of people who could make the mistake is large. You can build a system around any imaginable problem.

Have trouble getting out of bed when your alarm chimes?

Telling yourself you’re going to make sure not to do this on workdays and disabling your snooze option is being careful.

Putting your phone on the other side of the room before you go to bed is a small system.

Neither caution nor a system can guarantee that a mistake will be avoided. But systems are dynamic. Caution is not.

Let’s say setting your alarm on the other side of the room works for a while, but your morning zombie-brain adapts. You’ve discovered that if you go to the end of your bed and stretch far enough, you can turn the alarm off without even needing to get out of bed.

The system is failing. It needs to be adapted. So, you implement a new rule:

You’re not allowed to turn off your alarm until you’re dressed.

This one simple change to your routine implies that you’ll need to get out of bed, turn on a light, take off your pyjamas, and dress yourself before you’re allowed to turn off your alarm.

Couldn’t you still just turn the alarm off at any time and just go back to bed? Of course.

But if you were willing to put the effort into being careful, wouldn’t you also be willing to put in the effort to implement a system?

Systems take effort to implement, but once they’re in place they dramatically decrease your likelihood of making mistakes.

You can take a systems based approach to everything important to you.

Be careful, but be smart about it.

I love a nap almost as much as I love an espresso.

Recently I discovered that the two can be combined to great effect.

If you drink a coffee just before taking a 20 minute nap, the wakeful effects of each will compound.

This seems counterintuitive, but makes a lot of sense when you look at how caffeine and sleep each affect the brain.

As our bodies generate energy, they are constantly producing a neurotransmitter called adenosine.

Your brain has a number of adenosine receptors which are triggered as adenosine binds to them. These adenosine receptors are your body’s way of knowing it needs to sleep.

The more adenosine receptors activated, the sleepier you become.

When you sleep, your body produces less adenosine than it breaks down, which is why you usually wake up more alert that you did when you went to bed.

But what if you’re tired and sleep isn’t an immediate option?

This is where coffee steps in.

Lucky for us, caffeine has a similar structure to adenosine.

(Caffeine and Adenosine side-by-side)

Caffeine’s structure is similar enough that it can bind to the adenosine receptors without activating them.

This essentially blocks adenosine from binding to your receptors and telling your brain that you need to sleep.

Caffeine takes about 20 minutes to absorb into your bloodstream. By spending that time napping, your body naturally breaks down some of the adenosine in your system, which frees up more adenosine receptors for the caffeine to bind to.

A short nap primes your body to maximise the wakeful effect of caffeine.

If you’re a coffee drinker and haven’t tried this before, give this a shot.

Demand for critical thinking, digital literacy & creativity in the job market is rising dramatically.

(Foundation For Young Australians)

Our job markets are moving towards valuing skills over experience.

We are becoming more dynamic learners. It’s not uncommon to have a handful of career changes throughout your working life anymore.

Having spent 15 years working for an organisation means much less than it used to.

As people’s working lives become more dynamic; shifting and changing as technology and culture develops, skills become more valuable because they are transferable.

That’s not to say that experience isn’t valuable, but experience can be too specific, even when it’s from a similar job.

A McDonalds manager doesn’t care whether their employee took the time to memorise every ingredient in a Whopper in their last job. They want to know that their employee can flip a burger.

Young people now have the opportunity to focus on the type of work they want to do, rather than the job they want to do. But we don’t get it for free.

The cost of career dynamism is job security.

Some of us will work contract to contract for the rest of our lives, with next to no work in between.

This sounds scary, but isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

The more roles we expose ourselves to, the more skills we adopt. The more skills we have, the less likely it is that we’ll wake up aged 54 in a job we hate but can’t leave because the market is too competitive.

If you commit to a job which isn’t developing any of your skills, you are only investing your time in gaining experience.

Years of experience in a job you hate isn’t worth much at all. Beware the temptations of complacency.

Become someone who thrives in times of change, became times are always a-changin’.

Get to work.

To pay proper attention to anything is to inevitably ignore everything else.

My head does not like this fact.

What if I’m missing something?

Did I forget to…

Has such and such responded to so and so?

Sometimes, if I have enough resistance to a certain task, I’ll bounce around it like this for hours, or even days.

75% of the assignments I’ve ever submitted have been submitted within ninety seconds of the due time.

Given that about 20% have been submitted late… That’s not a good statistic.

This infuriates me.

I’ll bounce around the thing I need to do until there are literally seconds to spare; until I have no option but to do the thing, and only the thing, until it’s done.

This is not procrastination. Well, it is, but it’s slightly more complicated.

Procrastination implies a conscious effort has been made to ignore the thing.

But usually, it’s when I’m actively trying to do the thing that I run into the most trouble.

I get tripped up the same psychology behind choice paralysis.

Choice paralysis is when you have the option of twenty-five seemingly identical toothpastes, and it takes much longer to decide which to buy when compared to deciding which bag of flour you need to buy.

It’s why people spend so much time turning over apples in the produce section; there’s too many to choose from.

My experience, and the experience of many others who struggle with attention deficit stuff, is that as soon as I meet a task which doesn’t offer a clear, immediate and rewarding feedback loop, my brain starts inventing toothpaste brands and throwing apples in the air for me to catch and inspect.

The worst part is that I can often feel it doing this.

I can know that I’m about to avoid a task that I actually want to complete.

I can feel my brain inventing the excuse. Logically I know that I don’t need the cup of tea, or that nothing important will have happened in the few minutes since I last checked my phone. But I can’t stop myself.

It’s like watching a car crash in slow motion.

I’m screaming ‘STOP! We need to do this work.’ But my brain runs the red light anyway.

Next thing I know I’m on the couch with a cup of cold tea I didn’t want telling myself that the video documenting the history of Japan will in some way contribute to my essay on negritude poetry due in forty-five minutes.

I then write like a maniac for forty-three minutes, frantically edit the worst mistakes out and submit some sub-par work with seconds to spare.

The solutions I have found to this issue are twofold, and both have to do with stakes;

First, if I tell someone I care about that I’m going to have something done by a certain time, and I know that they’ll check it or know if I don’t, more often than not I’ll do it.

I do not like letting people down. Social stakes work wonders.

This is why I write at cafes and train jiu-jitsu with friends at 6am.

If they’re expecting me to show, I’ll show. But I have never got out of bed at 6am just because I wanted to get some work done for my own sake.

Secondly, if I set deadline pressure before the time things are actually due, I’m far more likely to succeeded.

This can’t be half assed. There needs to be stakes for not completing by the deadline, or I’ll just extent the deadline to the actual deadline and practice the same unwilling procrastination.

For example; assignment is due Wednesday, but if I’m not finished by Monday night I don’t get to eat out with friends on Tuesday night.

This works sometimes, but is less effective than creating accountability through involving other people in my work.

I can still weassel my way out of any self defined deadline. I’m quite good at it.

To pay proper attention to anything, you have to make the thing worth your attention.

If it isn’t by nature, and you’re sure you still have to do it, find a way.

And if you have any better ways of managing this, let me know!

You are your own boss. Even if you work for someone else.

You decide when you wake up, what you do and why you do it.

Why are we such shitty managers of ourselves?

If you had a manager that talked to you the way you talked to you, you’d quit. If you had a boss that wasted as much of your time as you do, they’d fire her. If an organization developed its employees as poorly as you are developing yourself, it would soon go under.

Seth Godin

We need to treat ourselves like we would a well oiled organisation;

Set high expectations, but be realistic.

Apply pressure, but not too much.

Work hard, but not so hard that the work of living becomes unpleasurable.

Most importantly; have a vision, a mission and a purpose.

Your purpose is the reason you exist, your vision describes what accomplishing your purpose looks like, and your mission is the battle plan for how you’re going to get there.

Organisations who fail to define these things, fail to function.

People are the same.

If you don’t know why you’re here, why you’re doing what you’re doing, or how you’re going to do it… Something is wrong.

You’re the boss. Fix it.

Become a person who thrives in times of change. Learn to harness change for your advantage.

Fall in love with the impending unknown.

Organisations, relationships and businesses collapse when the people involved become complacent.

Complacency is sin.

Improve your workflow, surprise your partner, do something unnecessarily kind for a friend.

Innovate something.

‘But why should I fix something that isn’t broken?’

Because if you’re unknowingly complacent, there’s no guarantee you’ll notice when it does start to break. And everything breaks.

Becoming a perpetual innovator is safer than being complacent in an up-till-now consistent system.

When things change for the worse, it usually comes as a surprise. There are times when we have no control over this.

Actively creating change for the better insures against those surprises.

Don’t become complacent. Don’t get caught off guard. Not in anything you do.

Instead, make a ruckus.

We all need mentors. They’re essential for growth, but they aren’t created equal.

An average mentor will give you a map; a detailed list of guidelines and instructions for how to get from A to B (where they assumedly are).

An excellent mentor will give you a compass; they’ll point you in a direction, warn you about the perils you may encounter along the path, and send you on your way.

“The type of mentors who tend to be the most helpful are those who don’t necessarily give you an answer, but they give you a better way of finding that answer.”

Tim Ferriss

An excellent mentor understand that your journey will not be the same as theirs was. Times change. Safe roads become perilous and vice versa.

Excellent mentors are less focussed on what you should do, and more focussed on dangers you should avoid as you navigate your own path.

Find people who model the life you want to lead and allow them to guide you, but never mould yourself into an exact replica of someone else. It’ll never work. Even if you follow their map religiously, you may find that you wield different tools.

You’re too much like you.

Mould your own excellence.

The music of awkward English folk-pop legend Tom Rosenthal is very close to my heart.

His song range from the stunning and serious (About the Weather) to the absurd and hilarious (P.A.S.T.A).

My first introduction to Tom was this hidden gem among his earlier work, Don’t You Know How Bust & Important I Am?

It’s a joyous critique of the over-working, hyper-productivity mindset, and I find it grounds me when I start taking things (or myself) too seriously.

‘Don’t you know how busy and Important I am? I’ve got so much to do.’

Is the repeated chorus throughout the song. But his sarcastic jab at self importance takes darker turn;

‘Too busy to cry, too busy to die, too busy to see my chance.’

The music video, filmed in the same town as the original UK version of the office, features a trio of awkward office workers progressively losing their shit dancing as they let themselves go to the tune of;

‘Maybe I’m just trying to distract myself from my mortality.
Maybe I’m just trying to distract myself from my mortality.’

Tom’s message is subversive but clear; slow down, enjoy the little things, and don’t die dejected and busy.

This kind of absurdly beautiful clever nonsense jives with me greatly.

Tom’s music is at times a breath of fresh air, at others a reality check and on occasion, a soul churning experience.

He’s the artist I recommend most often.

Put him on shuffle until you find something you love, because he’s almost certainly made something that you will.

The way we hold ourselves, gesture, and move through space; our nonverbals, influence how others perceive us, but also how we perceive ourselves.

Symbolic gestures of pride are universal across the animal kingdom. Gorillas, gymnasts, and blind athletes all spread their arms high and wide in celebration of a victory; they take up space.

While mostly sub-conscious, we are constantly navigating the power dynamics between us and our environment.

Our nonverbals are one way we manage this; they govern how we think and feel about ourselves, and how we move in relation to, or in the presence of, others.

Why is this important?

Because you can train yourself to feel physiologically powerful, and it has immediate effects on your brain.

People acting powerfully are more assertive, confident, have an easier time abstract thinking, and display risk-taking indicators.

Power is about how you react to stress.

Good leaders are less stress reactive than the people they lead.

The science behind how this functions is fascinating. Researchers have used ‘power pose’ experiments to measure physiological effects.

Low-power poses spike cortisol.

High-power poses spike testosterone.

If you clam up, you are chemically reducing your ability to be present or influential.

If you force yourself to make a habit our of; sitting straight, rocking your shoulders back, keeping your chin up and not crossing your arms and legs, you might not just look more powerful, and be treated as such by those around you. You will likely feel more powerful.

Sometimes your presence is more important than whatever you have to say.

Maintain it.