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Month: January 2018

The Secret to Getting More Done: Embrace Boredom!

The Secret to Getting More Done: Embrace Boredom!

Yesterday I posted about a great interview I heard with Cal Newport discussing his latest book Deep Work. In the interview (on Zack Arnold’s Optimize Yourself podcast), Newport points out that, in a knowledge economy, the ability to focus is extremely valuable. Ironically we are living in a time when distraction is backed by trillions of dollars, big data and the smartest minds (carbon and silicon based) on the planet.

Focused work can only happen when you work one thing, uninterrupted, for at least 30 minutes. Every time you get interrupted or choose to interrupt yourself (by checking email, news, Facebook, texts, messenger, Whatsapp, Instagram, Twitter, Linkedin, Hulu, Youtube…..) it decreases your ability to think deeply for a while.

Focusing, he points out, is not a habit. It’s a skill that needs to be practised. Like any skill, it’s not going to feel great to do it at first. For example, exercising regularly is a habit you can develop. Swimming or dribbling a basketball is a skill.

To do deep work you have to embrace boredom because you have to get over your addiction to stimulation. He suggests waiting in line or going for a walk or just sitting around for specific periods of time with no phone and nothing to do. This dovetails with what Manouch Zomorodi talks about on her fantastic NPR podcast Reply All and her new book Bored and Brilliant. (here’s her great TED talk What Manouch and her listeners discovered (or rediscovered) is that great ideas come out of being bored. The enemy of boredom is that magically phone/internet device in your pocket.

So put down the phone for a while and you’ll be able to write that book or invent that better mousetrap.

So my advice. Create stuff. Switch off all your notifications except one. The one you’ll get after you subscribe to my Youtube channel!!!

How To Get More Done In Less Time

How To Get More Done In Less Time

Let me start with my observation. We have a problem in our house. My son is very busy and he has a lot of homework. There are these study guides for AP European History that he has to do nearly every week that take a lot of time.

I suspected that it would take him less time if he focused on it to the exclusion of everything else. We did a little experiment and it turned out that when he did the study guide his way, with a podcast going and allowing other distractions to encroach on his attention he took about an hour to finish a page. When he did it my way, with no distractions. He could do 2 pages in an hour.

The very next day I listened to an excellent podcast interview with Cal Newport. Newport describes himself as “a computer science professor who writes about how to perform productive, valuable, and meaningful work in an increasingly distracted digital age.” His latest book is called Deep Work and I am getting it. In the interview, Newport sited studies and his own experience to support his claim that if you focus on one thing you can get it done in half the time.

This is kind of what we used to call a “no duh” observation.

But it’s important to note what focused attention means and what it doesn’t mean. It means doing one thing with no momentary “just checks” as in “I’ll just check Facebook” or “I’ll just check email.” It turns out that context switching, which is a term psychologists have adapted from computer science, takes a large amount of mental energy. When you go from writing a blog post, for example, to checking a text and then back again, it takes time and energy to get your attention back to writing. If you can set things up to stick to one thing, you will be much more efficient.

By the way, In case you haven’t got the memo, it turns out that there is no such thing as multitasking. Humans can only focus on one thing at a time. Multitasking involves switching from one focus of attention to another. This works for things that don’t take deep focus like driving somewhere you’ve been before and listening to the news on the radio. It doesn’t work for anything that takes any amount of brainpower. I know I can’t talk on the phone and drive somewhere new. At least I can’t do both at the same time very well.

But here’s the very big problem. Our economy is now based on grabbing attention. As a result we live in a completely distracting world. So much so that Newport posits that anyone who knows how to focus on one thing at a time in 2018 has a huge advantage over everyone else.

It takes about 20 minutes for most people to get into a deeply focused state after being distracted. A study done by a team of British psycologists in 2015 found that people looked at their phones twice as often as they thought they did, an average of 85 times a day or once every 12 minutes. So most people spend their entire day somewhat distracted.

In fact, we are, as a society, addicted to stimulus. It’s a serious problem that will require serious effort to change. It’s not just a modern problem. When Victor Hugo found he was having trouble writing he took off all his clothes and had his valet lock him in a room with nothing but pen and paper so he had to write or do nothing. Consider the lengths that Victor Hugo went through and he didn’t have the richest companies to ever exist using massive amounts of computing and brain power to figure out how to distract him.

So let’s all try to focus.

I’ll dig deeper into this over the coming days.

A Simple Way To Improve Your Day

A Simple Way To Improve Your Day

Here’s a very simple lifehack that will make you feel better almost instantly.

Pick someone and wish them joy.

Pick a person you know or pick a stranger out of a crowd and wish that they receive really joyful news and imagine the happiness that lights them up.

Do it for a few people today every hour or so.

See how it makes you feel. If you like it, do it again tomorrow.

Meditation: How and Why To Do It.

Meditation: How and Why To Do It.

Recently a friend pointed out that when I started meditating 30 years ago it was a weird thing to do. Now everyone is talking about it.

I keep talking about it as one of the three things that everyone should do more of along with sleep and exercise.

So why should you do it?

This is the simple answer. Our experience of life is filtered by our opinions and judgements and prejudices. Our minds are constantly interpreting reality, adding meaning to things and responding emotionally to events. There is nothing to do to stop that.

When you meditate you try to focus on the present moment without interpretation. This is nearly impossible. One of my favorite Buddhist writers, Brad Warner, compared it to surfing. Maintaining relaxed focus on the present without thinking about the past or future or whatever is like staying balanced on a surfboard on unpredictable waves. You’re only going to be able to do it for short periods of time.

The value of meditation comes from realizing how active your mind is and slowly gaining a bit of distance from that churn. Once you see that flood of random thoughts and feeling and interpretations you can get a small measure of facility with it. You probably won’t be able to control it but you may get to a point where it doesn’t control you as much.

Meditation is also good for you in subtler ways. It repairs some of the damage done by the stress of modern life and when you get into the present moment, even for a few seconds, it feels really good.

So how do you do it? Get into a comfortable position that you can maintain for a while. The lotus position is ideal but if you can’t cross your legs comfortably (I can’t) sitting is fine. Don’t lie down because you don’t want to fall asleep and you want to be alert. Then pick something simple to focus on. It can be a repeated phrase or you can count your breaths (count to ten and then start again). You can also look at something like a picture or a candle.

Just decide what you’re going to do, set a timer for 5 to 30 minutes and do it.

Realize that you are going to fail most of the time.

Many people have told me that they can’t meditate because their minds are too active. These people have gotten bad info. Everyone has an active mind. From the outside, it looks like a meditating monk is totally focused. Inside they are thinking about going to the grocery store or some attractive boy or girl or what they should have said that one time or how they lost track of what they were supposed to be focusing on and how they are bad at meditating.

Here’s the secret: Meditation is the act of failing to meditate and trying again.

You can’t be bad at it if you’re trying to do it. By definition you can’t fail at it!

Habit Forming: A Quick Guide

Habit Forming: A Quick Guide

One of the best ways to reach a goal is to establish a beneficial habit like taking a walk each day or putting $50 a week in a savings account. Another thing to do is to discard an unhealthy habit like having a venti mocha frappuccino every morning.

To do that it’s helpful to understand what a habit is. To get more information on habits I recommend Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit. Duhigg is a journalist who has studied the studies on habit. and give a great summary. Here’s a summary of the summary.

A real habit is a neurological energy saver. Habits don’t require much conscious thought and conscious thought requires a lot of energy. Habits are automatic. There are three parts of a habit. A trigger, an action, and a reward.

The trigger might be going downstairs in the morning. The action might be making coffee and the reward is a jolt of energy from the caffeine.

To form a good habit try this.

1 Decide on a goal that you would like to achieve for your health.
2 Choose a simple action that will get you towards your goal which you can do on a daily basis.
3. Plan when and where you will do your chosen action. Be consistent: choose a time and place that you encounter every day of the week.
4. Every time you encounter that time and place, do the action.
5. It will get easier with time, and within 10 weeks you should find you are doing it automatically without even having to think about it.

(This is from an article by Gardner, Lally and Wardle in the Britiish Journel of General Practice.)

What may be more effective and kill two birds with one stone is to REPLACE the bad action in an established habit with a good action. So if you go out for a frappuccino with a friend every afternoon, suggest going for a longer walk instead of grabbing the sugary drink. You still have the trigger and the reward (energy boost and social interaction) but the action is different.

This is actually the best way to get rid of negative habits. Identify the triggers and rewards and substitute some other action. If you grab a smoke or a candy bar when you get bored, try playing a song or going for a walk around the office instead.

3 Things EVERYONE Should Start Doing Right Now

3 Things EVERYONE Should Start Doing Right Now

It’s the beginning of the year and if you’re like me, the beginning of the year is a time to think about redesigning and redefining your life. It’s a time to make changes. To get a new job or start getting in shape.

Here are three things I strongly urge EVERYONE to do in the new year. They are very simple but very powerful and will help you do everything else.

1. Sleep More
2. Exercise More
3. Meditate More

Now there are some of you who get enough sleep and there are others who might exercise too much but, generally speaking, nearly everyone could benefit from more sleep, exercise and meditation.

Over the past year I have made a concerted effort to get at least 7 hours of quality sleep every night and it’s made a huge difference. Nearly everyone is sleep deprived and its because nearly everyone has too much to do and is addicted to TV, computers, phones and other screens. Shut them off and lie down 8 hours before you have to get up.

If you have trouble falling asleep, your problably not getting enough exercise. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week plus strength training of all your muscles at least twice a week. That would be a half hour of activity 5 days a week. That is a MINIMUM. We are evolutionarily designed to walk and run and hunt and work all day long. Exercise is incredibly important. Not for losing weight, it’s actually not very good for losing weight. That’s something I’ll go into some other time. But exercise is good for everything else.

If you’re up to something in life you should set aside some time to move around. Play a sport. Go for a walk or a run. Go swimming. Do yoga. Do something.

If you say “I don’t have time.” Let me ask you a question. How many bodies do you get to live this life with?

If you’re like most people you only get one.

So you need to take care of it by sleeping and exercising. If you don’t take care of your one body you won’t get be able to use it to do anything else.

And while we’re on the topic, let me ask another question.

How many brains do you get?

Take care of the one you have by sleeping, exercising and meditating.

Meditation or some kind of mindfulness practice (like yoga or mindful walking) helps with every aspect of life. It helps with emotional equilibrium, problem-solving, stress management, and decision making. It also can lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of all kinds of disease.

Just try taking three deep breaths right now.

Feel better?

Good. Keep it up!

Gooooooaaaaal!!!!!! (s)

Gooooooaaaaal!!!!!! (s)

Did you make some resolutions for 2018?

Here’s a quick tip. Don’t make amorphous resolutions. Make SMART goals. SMART stands for different things depending on who you ask but the first two letters always stand for SPECIFIC and MEASURABLE and the T always stands for something to do with time. Some folks use TIME-BASED and others use TIME-BOUND. Many use the less accurate word TIMELY. What they all mean is that your goals should be Specific and Measurable and should include a time by which they will be attainted.

So “getting in shape” is not a SMART goal. Losing 20 pounds by June 1st might be.

Let’s look at the other two letters.

A usually stands for ATTAINABLE or ACHIEVABLE and R can stand for REALISTIC but I prefer to say that it stands for RELEVANT.

So you want to look at your goal and see if it’s physically possible. If you want to lose weight its considered safe to lose 1 or 2 pounds a week. To lose 20 pounds you should set your deadline at least 10 weeks in the future to make it ACHIEVABLE.

And is it relevant? Do your goals line up with your theme or your purpose? If you want to change your career it may not be relevant to spend a lot of time learning how to play the tuba.

So write out your goals so that they are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound.

Now share them with someone. Maybe ask them to hold you accountable.

Now unfold them backward through time. If you want to lose 20 pounds in 10 weeks you should figure out how much you should lose in the next week (at least 2 pounds). You also need to put structures in place to support you in the actions needed to reach your goals.

This whole process takes resolutions from fantasyland and transforms them into goals that actually live in reality.

Your Revolutionary Party Theme

Your Revolutionary Party Theme

Today is the first non-holiday Monday of the new year so its time to get up and get going. A new year is a great symbolic time to start something new but if you’re watching this at any other time or you’re thinking about this in April or July or October let me point out that the new year is just an arbitrary point in the calendar. There’s no reason to set the beginning of the year 2 and a half weeks after the winter soltice or a week after Christmas (which was also arbitrarily placed on December 25th about 1600 years ago.) The point is that you can choose any day or any moment as the starting point.

And here’s what I want you to start. I’m not talking about resolutions, I’m talking about revolution. I want you to completely overthrow the tyrannical whatevers that are keeping you down. I want you to rise up and determine your own destiny. I want you to be free to be what you want to be!

This is what I’m up to this year. I want to completely remake my life so it’s unrecognizable. I want to be the very best version of myself I can be and let nothing stop me from doing all the great things I want to do.

So how do we do this, you and I. How do we have a personal revolution?

First, we need to step back and look at what we are overthrowing and what we are throwing in. We don’t want to cut off the kings head and replace his reign with a reign of terror. That happened after the French Revolution and I’ve seen similar things happen to friends of mine.

What we want to have is a concept to guide us. You need a purpose or a direction so that you can keep moving even when you reach a goal faster than you expected or some particular avenue of action becomes impassable. instead of just setting a goal of losing 20 pounds or of working out at the YMCA 3 times a week, create an overarching purpose of maximum fitness or inspiring well-being.

So I want you to figure out the purpose of your life this morning and write it down.

Sounds too portentous? How about the direction of your life?

Sounds too important?

What if I told you that you can change it and refine it? Still sounds intimidating?

Ok, let’s stop being so significant. We’re starting a revolution and we’re doing it together and it’s going to be fun so let’s start a revolutionary party. Every party needs a theme, right?

So what’s the theme of your revolution of 2018?

My theme is unleashing creativity and productivity. With everything I do, I am going to unleash creativity and productivity.

That’s the theme of my party!

What’s yours? Don’t worry about getting it right. Think about what you’re up to when you are most inspired. Think about how you most love to help people. Think about what gives you joy. is it providing for your family? Is it supplying support to your friends? Is it working for a certain cause?

What is the theme of your party?

Pick one. You can change it or refine it later but pick one.

Why do you need to pick one? Because you’re going to start moving and taking action the second you pick a direction and now is the time to start moving.


Share this with everyone and subscribe to this channel! More coming!!!