Are We Too Busy?

How busy are you?

Often in America being seen as busy is a badge of honor. There is an assumption that we need to fill our days with as much work as possible. This formula can lead to extra stress and exhaustion.

The pandemic has given many people a chance to pause and reconsider their work day. In a recent article by Shayla Love on Vice, she notes how this unusual year has allowed many workers a chance for reflection.

The pandemic offered a rare window of opportunity for some people to become literally less busy, and perhaps more importantly, to get perspective on their cultural beliefs about busyness. Instead of being caught up in the inertia of always projecting a busy life, they had time to reflect on how they used busyness to define themselves—and how it led to stress and the conflation of productivity and self-worth.

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Later in the article, she explores the how people view business and happiness. It actually interferes with how they use their downtime. Looking at a recent study on the topic, Love notes:

But the paradox and masochism of busyness is also laid bare: the study found that while people aspire to be more like a busy person, they also consider the busy person to be less happy. An obsession with busyness also taints how people spend what little leisure time they have, … by wanting leisure to accomplish as much as possible in as little time as possible—called “productivity orientation.”

Read the rest of the article online at Vice.

Can you have purpose without passion?

There is a long standing idea that if you are not excited about doing something, then it is not for you. Passion for our work is said to drive us to do it better and stick with it when we are in rough times. How true is this idea?

According to David Allen, passion and purpose may be misunderstood. In a recent blog post titled, Go beyond passion to peaceful purposefulness, he shares thoughts about the connection between the two. To begin, he points out his resistance to passion.

I have been attempting to understand why it bugs me to hear professional motivators talk about the necessity for “passion” to be successful. Perhaps I’m just getting too old and lazy to be interested in jacking up my emotions about anything. (Getting passionate about something usually seems to me like hard work.) Or perhaps it’s the fact that jacked-up emotional states are not something you need or even want, to be successful.

Instead of passion, Allen shifts the mindset to the concept of identification.

I think I know what the motivators are referring to. There is a quality of intensity of commitment that resides with successful people. But rather than “passion” I would suggest the word “identification.” When you really identify with something, whether it is some intended outcome or some internal standard about your reality, it creates a true motivational energy to make it happen. But that does not at all mean a hyperemotional state.

Read his full post on the Getting Things Done web site.

4000 Weeks

It is easy to think that with enough time we will be able to accomplish anything we want. However, the truth is that our days on this earth is limited. Some of it is restricted by commitments that others put upon us, but most comes from those we place on ourselves. With limited time, most of the items on our Someday/Maybe list will never be completed. This may seem grim, but it also serves as the inspiration to do great things.

In a recent article in The Atlantic, reporter Joe Pinsker shares an interview with author Oliver Burkeman about his new book, Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals. In the book, Burkeman states that the average life span of a person lasts around 4000 weeks, roughly to about the age of 80. With this finite perspective in place, a person can tackle the challenge of determining what is most important to them.

“The average human lifespan is absurdly, terrifyingly, insultingly short,” he writes. Given this limitation, it makes sense that the typical approach to time management is to seek ways to cram ever more into our finite number of days.

But Burkeman argues that this is the wrong way to manage time. Rather than looking outward to productivity strategies and hacks, Four Thousand Weeks encourages an inner shift in perspective. It confronts a series of comforting illusions that many of us hold onto instead of internalizing colder truths: that we will die not having done a tremendous number of things we care about; that every commitment we make to a person, place, or line of work rules out countless others that may fulfill us; that our lives are already ticking away.

Later in the article, Burkeman makes a statement that seems to sum up his philosophy.

The only way to get around to the important things is: Instead of trying to eradicate all the other stuff, [make progress] on the important stuff first. You just have to let the other chips fall where they will.

Read the full interview on The Atlantic web site.

Critical Thinking – The Smart Thing to Do

Have you ever known someone who was very intelligent, yet made dumb mistakes? Take the story of Jonah Lehrer. He was an up and coming New York Times journalist whose career collapsed after a plagiarism scandal. Then it was discovered he fabricated quotes he attributed to Bob Dylan then lied about the source. All around the world smart people fall for scams, conspiracies, and tricks. It seems that having a PhD, membership in Mensa, or honored credentials from prestigious organizations does not prevent foolishness.

Scientific American journalist Heather A. Butler explored the intersection of intelligence and decision making in an article titled Why Do Smart People Do Foolish Things? In it, she points out that intelligence is not about being wise.

The most widely known measure of intelligence is the intelligence quotient, more commonly known as the IQ test, which includes visuospatial puzzles, math problems, pattern recognition, vocabulary questions and visual searches.

Image from Pixabay.com

Butler contrasts it to the skill of critical thinking.

Though often confused with intelligence, critical thinking is not intelligence. Critical thinking is a collection of cognitive skills that allow us to think rationally in a goal-orientated fashion and a disposition to use those skills when appropriate. Critical thinkers are amiable skeptics. They are flexible thinkers who require evidence to support their beliefs and recognize fallacious attempts to persuade them. Critical thinking means overcoming all kinds of cognitive biases (for instance, hindsight bias or confirmation bias).

Butler goes on to share why it is important to understand the difference since it is hard to increase intelligence, but one can train to improve critical thinking skills. Read her article to learn more.

Disagreeable Feedback

It is a simple fact that in order to improve in any skill, whether it be management, communication, or computers, feedback is needed. Great feedback happens when it is very specific, given timely, and in a way that is supportive of the recipient. However, we have all experienced feedback that doesn’t work for us. In fact, some feedback may simply be inappropriate or wrong. What is the best way to respond?

Kim Scott, author of Radical Candor, is one of the leading experts on effective workplace communication. In a post on her blog, 5 Tips for When You Disagree with Feedback, Kim is very straightforward with the notion that you do not have to agree with feedback.

You can and should tell the person that you disagree. If you just say, “Thank you for the feedback” through gritted teeth, you seem Manipulatively Insincere. Better to take the time to explain why you disagree. Once, a CEO to whom I’d offered criticism told me the next day, “I reject that feedback — but I love that you told me what you think! Do you want to hear why I disagree?” Of course I did — and I actually felt better about my coaching of him after that because he’d been so totally open to criticism before that moment that I wondered if he was really hearing it.

Kim Scott

Kim wants to ensure that the person providing the feedback is honored for doing so. That way they understand you appreciated the effort even if you disagreed with their assessment. She then provides five tips on how to deal with feedback. The first is to check your understanding.

Repeat back what you think you heard, and say, “Did I understand correctly?” or “Did I get that right?” This is a good opportunity to show you care about the person, and what they think.

Learn more tips about how to respectful respond to disagreeable feedback on the Radical Candor web site.

What Your Brain Really Does

The human brain remains one of the deepest mysteries in biology. It is the most important part of our body, but even with all the advances in neuroscience we still don’t fully understand how it works. In productivity circles it is often assumed that better knowledge of brain function might improve efficiency and creativity.

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In a recent interview in GQ magazine, neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett reveals surprising facts about how our brains really work. For starters she reveals what the brain’s most important role is:

The brain’s most important job is not thinking or seeing or feeling or doing any of the things that we think of as being important for being human. Its main job is running a budget for your body—to keep you alive, to keep you healthy. So every thought you have, every emotion you feel, every action you take is ultimately in the service of regulating your body. We don’t experience mental life this way, but this is what is happening under the hood.

Read the rest of the article on the GQ web site or pick up her new book: Seven and a Half Lessons about the Brain.

Make a habit about not worrying about your habits

Developing great habits is one way to succeed at life. Whether it is being productive, healthy, or financially free, our habits drive our daily behavior towards the longer term goals that inspire us. However, there are many days, especially this year, where sticking to good habits is a struggle. Whether it is the temptation to watch TV instead of work, eat a big bowl of ice cream, or splurge on a fancy new toy, it is easy to slip out of our desired habits. When they happen should we feel guilty about these indulgences?

In a recent blog post, Darius Foroux argues that we should stop worrying about missed habits. Being too strict around them is actually counter productive. He writes:

We humans have this tendency to take everything to the extreme. And when it comes to habits, I found that majority of my friends, family, readers, and students have an all or nothing mentality.

You either work out every day or you do nothing. You either write every day or you do nothing. Why so serious? The reason for this is negative self-talk. We assume that we messed up if we miss our habits for a few days.

Darius Foroux

Foroux advises that we not worry about missing one day of a habit.

If you practice true mindfulness, there are no streaks. There’s only now. You shouldn’t care about what you did yesterday. Only care about what you’re doing today. And always try to make the best of it.

Every day is a new day that has nothing to do with yesterday.

Read the full post on his web site.

Why Did I Make that Dumb Decision?

Have you ever made a decision you quickly regretted? We have all made choices in our life that seemed well thought out at first, only to have the results turn out sour. Decision making is something we do every day, but very few people take the time to examine their decision making process. Even fewer attempt to understand the hidden factors that effect our cognitive process and cloud our view of the world.

In a recent workshop for PCI Webinars I explored the role that fallacies and probability play in our decision making process. I started out the webinar with a quote from former US Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld that demonstrates the complexities of our ability to understand the world.

“Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.” – Donald Rumsfeld – US Secretary of Defense – 2001-2006

To learn more about six big fallacies the effect our decision making and to discover how our inability to understand probability leads to bad choices, read the text version of the workshop on the Efficient Librarian web site.

What is Killing Your Focus?

Have you ever been distracted?

We are often our own worst enemy, as it is very easy to be enthralled by the next shiny bauble. However, sometimes it is other who distract us. The ability to focus is key to getting anything done well. There are many possible reasons for our inability to focus. In his recent article The Two Things Killing Your Ability to Focus published in the Harvard Business Review, writer William Treseder narrows down the culprits to two specific causes, our electronic devices and meetings.

First, we increasingly are overwhelmed with distractions flying at us from various connected devices. Smartphone and tablet use is spiking, and we now use digital media for an average of over 12 hours per day. This hyper-connected state does not allow us to process, recharge, and refocus.

Second, we rely excessively on meetings as the default form of interaction with other people at work. Studies indicate that we spend anywhere from 35–55 percent of our time, and sometimes much more, in meetings. If we want to stay focused on truly meaningful activity, something has to change.

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How do we get around these obstacles in order to better focus? Treseder suggests several approaches. For example, to make meetings more useful he suggests we shrink the number of people in attendance.

Countless studies, starting with this 2015 HBR research, have shown the benefits of smaller teams. Focus and responsibility are more challenging with too many people — which is how you end up with folks staring down silently at their laptops for an entire meeting. To stay focused, keep your team focused. Limit the number of people in any meeting to eight or fewer unless it is a meeting that is purely informational.

Read the full article to learn the other suggestions that will