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.

Photo by energepic.com on Pexels.com

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.

Tidy the Home Office

Are you working from home all the time or a few days a week?

The pandemic radically altered the way we approach work. Many people no longer commute and instead work from a home office. This can be a great arrangement since it cuts out commutes and coworker distractions. However, setting up a home office to make it a welcoming productive space can be tricky. Is there a way to do it well?

Marie Kondo, creator of the KonMari Method, recently offered advice on her blog about how to tidy the home office space. She first explains that you should set an intention for how you want the home office to look and feel. Next is her signature move, discarding!

Go through your desk drawers and toss out old receipts, corral loose change, and recycle catalogs or other paper items that are no longer needed. When it comes to more sentimental items, such as photos or notes from friends and relatives, express gratitude for these belongings and their significance and then let go—Marie sends off such items using salt

Read the rest of her advice for your home office on the KonMari web site.

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.

Think Like a Scientist

The world is full of disagreement. Throughout our lives we encounter people who have different views from us on a wide range of topics. In some cases, these views may be held very intensely, leading to arguments, conflict, and at worst violence. If you have ever tried to change people’s minds, it can appear to be a futile process. Why is that so?

According to Adam Grant, part of the reason that disagreements are rarely resolved is because people don’t know how to engage in thoughtful debate. He argues in his new book, Think Again, that most people fall to one of three default modes of persuasion. In a recent article in Inc. magazine, contributor Jessica Stillman describes these modes this way:

Adam Grant

Preacher: “When we’re in preacher mode, we’re convinced we’re right,” explained Grant. From the salesman to the clergyman, this is the style you use when you’re trying to persuade others to your way of thinking.

Prosecutor: “When we’re in prosecutor mode, we’re trying to prove someone else wrong,” he continued.

Politician: It’s no shock that “when we’re in politician mode, we’re trying to win the approval of our audience.”

The problem with all three of these modes is that they rarely succeed in changing other person’s mind. In fact, they often create more resistance. Instead, Grant identifies a different approach to resolving disagreements.

Scientist: When you think like a scientist, “you favor humility over pride and curiosity over conviction,” Grant explained. “You look for reasons why you might be wrong; not just reasons why you must be right.”

This mode is challenging because it requires the maturity to accept that their position could be wrong. This vulnerability can become a bridge to connect people in a way that allows for understanding. To learn more, I invite you read Stillman’s article. If you want to dive deeper, please read Grant’s book, Think Again.

Think Like a Chef!

Have you ever had a day when new information, emails, and calls were flying at you in record speed? The nature of knowledge work is that we move between times of quiet and reflection to periods of rapid action. It is in those hectic times that we can easily fall behind and get flustered. So to master those busy periods it is helpful to consider another profession that works on rapid deadlines and continuous input: Chefs!

In a recent blog post, Tiago Forte examined the work environment that chefs create in their kitchens to handle the daily dinner orders. It is called mise-en-place. Tiago describes it this way.

Mise-en-place is about bringing together all the tools a chef needs in close proximity, prepped for immediate use, so that they can just execute – quickly, consistently, and sustainably.

Observing the way that chefs work to handle the flow of orders, Tiago highlights six principles that he believes can be applied to knowledge work. The first is sequence. As Tiago describes:

In a kitchen, sequence is everything.

The biochemical realities of food demand it: the meat can’t go onto the chopping block if it’s frozen; the pasta won’t absorb the sauce unless it’s been cooked; the garlic can’t be added until it’s been chopped.

In knowledge work, the importance of sequence isn’t always so clear. Does it really matter whether you send that email or write up that report first? It often feels like we should be doing everything immediately and all at once.

But consider that we can never do more than one thing at a time. The flow of time is linear, which means at some point, even our most complex thinking and planning has to get distilled down to a simple, linear to-do list: what comes first, what comes next, and what comes after that.

Once we realize the importance of sequence, it becomes apparent that not all moments are created equal: the first tasks matter much more than the later ones. In a kitchen, the few seconds it takes to start heating up a pan or start defrosting the chicken will have the biggest impact on the overall timeline, because these steps can’t be accelerated. They take as much time as they take.

Discover the other five principles by reading Tiago’s post.

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.

Is Productivity just is a Phase?

When did you decide to seek out personal productivity practices?

Many people do so when they feel overwhelmed by their work. Perhaps they have been given more and bigger projects or received a promotion with lots of responsibility. Others might have changes in their home life, such as a new child, that prevent them from putting in overtime. For these reasons and more they must become more efficient. Either way, personal productivity practices often make a huge impact on our work, but are they an end in themselves or a means to another end?

According to Tiago Forte of Forte Labs, learning personal productivity practices is only one step on a person’s journey. In fact it is an early stage. In a recent post on his web site he states:

I’ve begun to realize that the concept of “personal productivity” is just a season in people’s lives. It is a temporary phase that we each pass through on our way to other things.

Productivity as we know it is largely an entry-level concept. It caters to people just beginning their careers, starting their first professional jobs, or moving to new roles that demand a higher level of personal output.

Why is it attractive to people in an early stage of their professional life? Tiago believes it is due to leverage.

The reason productivity is just a phase is that it is relatively low leverage. “Leverage” refers to the ability to do more with less, such as using a lever to lift a boulder that you’d never be able to lift on your own strength.

You do need to reach a certain level of proficiency in your personal productivity. But once you do, you can go beyond it to greater sources of leverage. And you must, if you want to accomplish more while working less.

What are those other sources of leverage? There are many options.

Learn about these other sources of leverage by reading the rest of his posting.

An Interview With David Allen

Discovering Getting Things Done by David Allen ten years ago was a huge professional turning point for me. GTD provided a way to structure work that allowed me to achieve more than I had thought possible. In fact one of the best training tools I ever purchased was a ten CD recording of a GTD Live seminar which I listened to a dozen times. Over the years I have frequently returned to David Allen’s ideas and still find a clarity of thought this is always inspiring.

If it has been a while since you read Getting Things Done, or maybe have yet to open it, I highly recommend this interview with David Allen on Medium. He covers a lot of the basics of the GTD philosophy and how to apply it. For example:

These are the 2 elements of productivity:

  1. What am I trying to accomplish?
  2. How do I allocate resources, attention, and activity to make that happen?

They’re not automatic decisions. No email will tell you outcomes or actions. No thought you wake up with tells you that. You actually have to sit down and think and use your cognitive muscle. Put yourself through this thought process.

Later on in the interview he discusses priorities and clears up misconceptions around how they are set.

You’re making priority decisions every moment. Now you are talking to me, that is your priority. And that’s the best thing you can be doing right now. Otherwise, your head would be totally somewhere else.

If you’re always thinking about priorities … I’m not saying to not set priorities, but don’t try to oversimplify that and give yourself some formula that determines your purpose, your core values, your vision in where you’re going. The goals you need to accomplish, the things you need to manage and maintain to make sure you’re healthy.

Read the full interview to learn more.