Productivity

Our senses are constantly filtering data which we use to decide what we’ll do next. The fact that humans are so predictable is a testament to their ability to do this effectively. 

If you boil that down for long enough, our lives are nothing more than a long string of decisions, actions and inactions. 

Is this depressing? Maybe. Reductionist? Definitely. Could it be useful? I believe so. 

There are a million reasons we might choose to do one thing over another; we have ethical frameworks to pass quick judgement on wrongdoings of others; a moral compass to ensure that we align ourselves with internal principles of right and wrong; a relentless self interest which keeps us safe and ensures we can pass down our genes; and every now and then, we just do stuff because it feels good. 

The mental gymnastics our brains perform while making these decisions are but small parts of the lifelong games we use to define ourselves.

In the same way that ‘you are what you eat’ is true of the body, ‘you are what you do’ is true of the soul. 

Here’s the deal: we live in a strange, rapidly changing, hyper connected world which is making some of us intensely miserable in ways we don’t fully understand. 

Our ability to control our own attention is diminishing at an alarming rate.

Technical monoliths are making us feel exposed in ways people never used to have to worry about.

And our opportunities, while still limited, seem limitless in the face of everybody else’s success.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. We are sensationally adaptable creatures.

Brilliant people all over the world are constantly discovering fascinating things, many of which can inform our way forward through this jumbled mess.

Whenever it gets too much, remember that all you can ever be held accountable for is everything you do.

If the world outside is so overwhelming in scale and implication, how tiny our own short lives must be.

And if the prospect of being responsible for your every living breath is so overwhelming, how small and insignificant the rest of the world must be.

The world, and your roll in it, is neither too large or too small.

It just is.

Realise this and you might just do away with half the troubles our new world brings with it.

In 2014 a professor at the University of Melbourne published a study in which the computer sessions of 1249 students were analysed over a total of 3372 sessions.

Facebook was present in 44% of all sessions and accounted for the second most common task, totalling 9.2% of all task instances. Only being beaten by university work itself.

What’s interesting is that about 99% of the sessions involved instances of media multitasking.

For the purpose of the experiment they defined focussed behaviour as instances of 20 or more minutes with two or less different activities.

They discovered that students tended to multitask regardless of whether or not they used Facebook.

What was stunning is that when they compare the focussed behaviour between Facebook users and non-Facebook. Around a third of the non-Facebook users spent most of their time in focussed behaviour, compared to only one in nine Facebook users.

Further, Facebook was responsible for initiating multitasking behaviour at the cost of student’s focus.

While these results shouldn’t surprise anyone, they are a reminder that if Facebook is your vice of choice, maybe there are times where you want to restrict your access.

If you’re studying, maybe consider installing a website blocker to stop Facebook initiating distraction.

Your phone is probably the most distracting thing you own.

You can pick it up and access any one of a hundred apps at almost any time.

But this convenience comes at a cost.

Have you ever checked a message on your phone, then decided to check your email as well, jot down something in your shopping list app, Google the closest pizza place and then open up deliveroo? Me too.

When we engage in the consumption of media across channels and switch frequently, it’s called media multitasking.

Unfortunately, media multitasking taxes our ability to learn implicitly.

Which means that while you’re switching through channels, you’re not actually learning (or growing) a whole lot.

Because most of our learning happens naturally and subconsciously.

So be mindful. Next time you pick up your phone, try to do only the thing you first intended to do.

Then put it away.

There comes a time in every leader’s tenure when it’s time to start letting go.

Time to pass the batton, or risk letting their team die.

A good leader makes themselves replaceable.

A bad one leaves their project to perish along with their involvement.

If you’re not replaceable, your project isn’t sustainable, and unsustainable projects aren’t worth much investment.

It’s fine to start things on your own. Sometimes it’s the only way things get made.

But your ceiling operating alone is far lower than working alongside a group of compassionate people you trust.

Find your tribe.

Make a ruckus.

Get to work.

When people get lucky breaks, it’s easy to dismiss as pure chance. They were just in the right place at the right time… right?

But what if there was an art to being in the right places at the right times?

What if it took hard work and determination to put yourself in positions where your chances of a lucky break increase?

What if you could cultivate serendipity?

Jason Roberts thinks you can.

He believes that luck is governed by a pretty simple formula;

Luck = Doing x Telling

What does this mean?

It means that if you start doing something, you’re going to get better at it. You’ll continue to get better at it the more you do it and after you’ve done it for a long while, and got pretty good, your chances of having a lucky break get better also.

The other side of the equation is telling, and it’s as simple as you think it is. The more you tell people about what you’re doing, the better your odds are that someone is going to swoop in with a serendipitous offer or opportunity.

If you want your project to take off, Roberts suggests you focus on maximising your luck by doing more and telling more people about what you’re doing.

Copyright © 2010 Jason C. Roberts

The shaded rectangles in the above diagram represent what Roberts calls your luck surface area.

The more surface area you have, the more likely you are to succeed (or get lucky).

Doing without telling might lead to isolated genius, but it’s no way to sell your album.

And telling everyone what you’re doing even though you’re doing nothing at all is the trademark of a perpetual procrastinator.

Doing and telling are each necessary because they magnify one another.

Figure out which you do more often, and work on the other.

Was there a day this week where you went to bed dissatistied with the way you spent it?

How many days was that the case?

If that number is hard to deal with (which at times it most certainly has been for me), one of two things are wrong.

Either the way you’re spending your time isn’t aligned with the stories you want to tell about yourself, or your expectations aren’t in line with what’s reasonable.

This worst is when it’s a combination of the two.

We all deserve to love what we do.

But sometimes loving what we do requires us to work hard at loving it.

The games we play always offer opportinites to grow and learn. The degree to which we embrace those opportunities and implement the lessons we learn is another story.

Usually, meaningful growth which has lifetime value is burried under a lot of hard work.

This work is hard because it tends to involve a lot of losing. Losing feels like crap, but it’s a necessary prerequisite to succeeding – to a point.

If the player’s experience involves too much losing, they stop playing altogether.

The trick then, is how do we play these games in a way which helps us enjoy the process of trying and failing?

I believe the answer is by reframing failure into feedback.

Feedback is information gathered from a negative source which offers positive change.

By taking the raw data in our losses, we can find ways to look at them which track the incremental steps we can take towards more frequent victory.

If you suck at tennis and you’re really focused on trying to win every match, you’re going to have a rough time.

But if you suck at tennis and you’re really focussed on returning more serves than you were able to last week, you might enjoy a victory even if you get crushed.

The match is no longer played just between you and your opponent; there’s a separate game being played between you and yourself, in which you have much greater chance at victory.

These micro victories compound on one another.

For one month your focus is on returning serves, the next it’s on your forehand, then you backhand, then all of a sudden you’re not so bad at tennis – which is a whole lot better than losing four out of five matches and then selling your racket on Gumtree.

When failure equals feedback, losing equals winning.

Here’s a few things I’m pretty convinced are true;

  1. There is a constant war being fought for the attention of our digital selves which is having dramatic adverse effects on people’s happiness, especially amongst digital natives who have never known a world without digital media;

  2. Activities practiced regularly which reward participants for consistent time investment over many years are essential to a meaningful life;

  3. The instant dopaminergic gratifications available through social media and the 24-hour news cycle are training us against investing time into activities which generate meaning over time;

  4. Therefore, it is necessary to reframe the benefits of investing time and energy into skills and activities which create meaning and value over time for those who don’t understand this intuitively.

Deadlines are awesome.

They force you to focus on accomplishing a clear goal within a specific time, and usually do a good job of motivating you to get across the line.

But some of us (me) enjoy capitalising on this pressure so much that we get reliant on it.

This becomes a problem when longer term tasks show up – because they’re not the kinds of things you can smash out in an all-nighter.

Some things require slow, gradual, meaningful work.

When we can’t rely on sweet deadline pressure to get that work done, we need to employ other means.

For me, it’s games.

I’ll create a finite set of rules which govern the rate, pace and quality of the work I’ve got to do, break it into parts and sprinkle rewards along the way to encourage victory.

This blog is a prime example of that kind of game.

I’ve posted here every day for 6 months as of today (minus one day where my scheduling was out and I scheduled a post for three days in the future – thanks to who noticed).

That would never have been possible if I hadn’t set out goals, expectations and rewards for myself along the way which turned half a year’s worth of writing into daily, bite sized chunks.

Take care of your goals. Treat them well. And when you’re not progressing in their direction, find out why – then design something special and have some fun.