Productivity

Strive not for outcomes, but to engage with the processes which will satisfy you regardless of outcomes.

In order to think this way, we need to disconnect our emotions from the outcomes of our work and rewire them to the actual doing of the work.

Why slave away for a bonus when you could be working on falling more deeply in love with your job?

Being busy is easy.

So easy that you can live in a perpetual state of busyness without actually doing a whole lot. To stay feeling busy, just make sure that you’re always focussed on at least two tasks.

Productivity requires the opposite. It doesn’t feel as good to tell people how little you’ve been focussing on, but focussing purely on a few important things, one at a time, will get you much further.

When people ask how I’ve been, I’m often guilty of responding with, “Busy, but good.”

“Oh, that’s good.” Is what people usually say. But it’s not good. Being ‘busy’ is a waste of the two most valuable assets we have; our time and our attention.

Protect them from the distractions which would prey on your productivity and feed your sense of busy at all costs.

I was discussing the architecture of my book project with a dear friend today, and he offered me a brilliant piece of advice;

You should write your own foreword.

Write it in the voice of whoever you’d most want to write it, then take a look and see which bits are you.

What’s qualifying you?

And what’s competing with other people who have written about the same thing?

Before I could give him too much credit, he pointed out that this is what Amazon does with their products before they design them (he’s not the type to glorify the likes of Bezoz, but this practice is clever).

Image result for kindle

The press release for an Amazon product is written for internal staff, and is rigorously workshopped until they’re confident that the product promises to do something which will excite customers.

If people aren’t excited by the press release, the product doesn’t get designed.

It’s easy to get lost in the details of our work, but we must remain mindful of the people we do it for in the first place.

There are three blogs which I return to more than any others.

Today I thought I’d share them.

1. Seth’s Blog

The blog of Seth Godin was the inspiration for this one. He’s published work every day for over a decade and in the process has become the best distiller of information I’ve encountered.

2. Brain Pickings

Brain Pickings is a curation of deep dives into the work of great thinkers (often writers, poets or philosophers) by Maria Popova. Maria writes with a distinctive style which I admire greatly, and creates intricate networks throughout her blog by meticulously linking articles and topics to one another.

3. The Blog of Tim Ferris

Tim Ferris is a well known author, entrepreneur and self described ‘human guinea pig’. His blog is the home to his widely successful podcast, The Tim Ferris Show, where he seeks to unpack the successful habits of world class performers. I regularly listen to his podcasts, and find his cataloguing of show notes on the blog to be an invaluable resource.

“Become the best in the world at what you do. Keep redefining what you do until this is true.”

Naval Ravikant

In both art and business, we are usually defined by those we can be likened to.

We’re lumped into genres or styles, niches and roles.

When competing for success, we are often assigned a category.

Maybe you were proactive enough to assign yourself the category which best defines you.

This is great news, on one condition;

That you’re the best in class.

If you’re going to allow yourself to be defined by a category, ensure that you’re the best fish in the pond.

When in doubt, dig your own pond.

Don’t be a slightly-above-average animal photographer when you can be the world’s best Quokka photographer.

(Photo: Natalie Su)

Never call yourself a ‘pretty good’ sales assistant when you could be the best speckled beanie salesperson in the state.

Why would you be a writer with a blog when you could be the only young West Australian writer with a BJJ blue belt who publishes original work daily?

(If there’s another one, someone let me know, I’d love to meet them.)

You do you.

I only ask that you do us all a favour and do it brilliantly.

“How dare you settle for less when the world has made it so easy for you to be remarkable.”

Seth Godin

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.

Are you a writer?

How would you know?

Writers tend to write, right?

But how often, who for and how well?

This line of questioning is ambiguously annoying for a reason; there are no hard and fast metrics which dictate what a writer is or isn’t.

If you write anything at all, you have a case to state.

Whether or not you’re a writer depends entirely on whether or not you think you’re a writer.

The same goes for dancers, photographers, fighters, models, philosophers and nearly everything in between.

You become a writer (and cease being an ‘aspiring-writer’) the second you decide to mold your definition of what a writer is to include yourself.

I believe you should do this with everything you’re passionate about.

The ‘aspiring’ part of ‘aspiring writer’ is a safety net. It shields your work from scrutiny and justify mistakes.

Unfortunately, the shield perpetuates itself.

There’s not much use in considering yourself an ‘aspiring’ anything. Making mistakes and processing critique are both essential to growth.

‘Aspiring’ implies that the goal is to get good enough to shed the preface. It implies a destination which is an absolutely arbitrary definition.

It’s better to be a bad writer than an aspiring one.

Nobody is going to respect your work or hold it to a professional standard until you do so yourself.

Being bad at stuff is great. The worse you are, the more you have to learn.

Those who identify as ‘aspiring’ tend to be the most fearful of failure.

Become petrified enough of failing, and you might just scare yourself out of ever getting the practice you need to reach your destination.

Stop aspiring, start doing.

Find what you love.

Show up.

Do the work.

Embrace the failure.

Grow.

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.

Any meaningful progress requires the processing of (and response to) feedback.

An archer practicing her shots on a target nocks an arrow, aims, draws, then releases.

(Tan Ya-Ting, world class archer representing Chinese Taipei)

One of three things will happen;

  • She hits the bullseye;
  • She hits the target imperfectly;
  • Or she misses all together

The beauty of pursuits like archery is that the feedback involved in its practice is unambiguous, immediate, and self-enacting; it’s clear whether-or-not you’ve succeeded, and every possible outcome inspires the same response; nock another arrow, and try again.

If the archer misses, she picks up her bow and tries again until she hits.

When she hits the target imperfectly, she tries yet again, aiming for dead centre.

When she strikes dead centre, she tries again, and again, until she can strike dead centre one hundred times in a row.

Even when she has accomplished this, her mastery is not complete.

She takes a step back, increasing her range. Then once again, she tries again.

The process of improving at archery is ingrained in its practice. You hit, or you miss until you only hit.

You can’t pretend to be good at archery. Not to others, but more importantly, not to yourself. You are, or you aren’t. You hit, or you miss.

Similar loops can be found in pursuits like Jiu Jitsu, pottery, or lifting weights; You can defend yourself, or you can’t. You can throw a set of identical bowls, or you can’t. You can deadlift 80kg, or you can’t.

Want to get better at any of these things? Then do them.

Show up. Try. Process feedback. Repeat.

It sounds simple, because it is.

What most people fail to realise is that this type of progress is not exclusive to pursuits with self enacting feedback loops inbuilt.

Feedback loops can be designed and implemented into any pursuit.

It’s not always easy. But if progressing in your pursuit means something to you, designing and implementing feedback loops is essential.

Some artists do a particularly poor job of this. An artist’s failure to develop usually has to do with the ambiguity of their feedback, and their failure to reframe it into something actionable.

When the feedback generated by an activity is ambiguous, responding productively is a challenge.

Unlike arrows in targets, the effective success of artistic practice is often hard to measure.

What’s worse is when that ambiguous feedback gets further distorted and filtered by the artist’s ego.

What happens when ambiguous feedback gets passed through an ego filter?

Not a lot of growth.

When pursuits don’t have clear feedback cycles, we have to build our own. We owe it to ourselves.

If you want to get better at whatever it is you’re pursuing, you must be able to point at the bullseye, and describe what sending an arrow crashing into it looks like. Not the field it’s in, not the target itself, but the actual image of an arrow lodging itself cleanly in the centre ring.

For the artist, their bullseye might be the approval of a trusted mentor, or to their second timing on a monologue or poem.

A bullseye could look like one interesting blog post published every day, without typos, at 6am.

A detailed understanding of what perfect execution looks like is essential if you intend to trend towards it.

Fail to do so, and you’ll dabble in mediocrity for however long it takes you to quit.

Incredible things are difficult to do.

You shouldn’t feel horrible every time your arrow flies wayward. You shouldn’t expecting perfect results every time you loose an arrow – It’s about giving yourself the best opportunity to grow towards perfect results.

When designing your own loops, consider three things;

What does perfect execution look like?

What opportunities do I have to practice my own execution?

When I fail, how will I know what needs to change?

The more you try, the more you grow, the closer you get, the more you try.

Get trying.