30 Days of No Entertainment – Day 10 Update

My entertainment trial has been even more challenging than I anticipated. I think I set the bar way too high in the original post. As a result I have ended up cheating on the rules almost every day.

I haven’t failed completely, but I haven’t succeeded either. All in all I would say I am about half-way between where I started and where I wanted to be.

Turns out there were three independent habits of procrastination that I had to deal with:

The easiest one was random surfing. I had the habit of checking up on Twitter, YouTube etc. in-between work sessions. But I realized something weird about it. I wasn’t going there for the content – I knew very little would happen between visits anyway. It was more just the reflex of going there that was the problem. And it was pure muscle memory: After doing certain actions, my mouse “wanted” to move to the URL bar and start entering addresses.

So I started to intercept the in-the-moment impulse of visiting entertainment sites. Whenever I was about to start surfing, I would go “oh wait, I’m not doing that now!”, and then stop myself. And that more or less cleared that problem. I think I broke the clicking habit in less than two hours.

The second issue was my habits after finishing my work, and whether or not I kept sitting at the computer. This turned out to be a much harder problem. Turns out it can be pretty hard to “break free” once your brain is in computer mode. This will be something I’ll focus on going forward, more on this below.

The biggest problem though was stimulus addiction. This one surprised and scared me a bit.

My predictions about withdrawal symptoms were spot on. Already the first night I started to feel a strange sensation which I can only describe as feeling “starved”. I started to crave stimulus, and badly. Frankly it shocked me that I felt this kind of withdrawal this early, and this strongly. It probably didn’t help knowing that I was only on day one of thirty. I found this feeling to be directly painful. I guess it was the reason why I started cheating already the next day.

I haven’t cured of this one yet either, but I’m making good progress. Quitting cold turkey didn’t work, but the gradual approach seems to work better. It’s hardest to resist in the evening when I’m tired. That’s also why turning off the computer is so important.

On the plus side…

Despite the slightly negative slant above, I am very happy with the results so far. I have spent a lot less time on entertainment this week than normal, and I’ve barely watched any TV at all. The aimless web surfing is almost completely gone. The only real time waster has been YouTube. Yesterday I added YouTube to BlockSite – a Firefox site blocking plugin – and that seemed to help.

Being starved for stimulus has its benefits too. You’ll find almost anything entertaining. A bird on the porch? Awesome! Family visiting? Let’s play a board game, pleeaase! And I’ve started reading more too, so far I’ve finished one and a half book – I love that.

As I hoped I’ve also spent much more time outside. (A sudden onset of summer helped :) ) I haven’t increased my gym frequency, but that’s mostly because of the weather too. I prefer long forest walks / runs as exercise anyway.

The absolute biggest impact though has been on my productivity. My lord. The amount of time I’ve spent on working, writing, taking notes, drafting blog posts or thinking about work must have gone up at least 50%, if not 100%. The biggest factor isn’t even the time, but the continuous non-interrupted focus it gives you. Eliminating hours of irrelevant input, it turns out, leaves a void to be filled.

It’s strange but in a sense I feel liberated. Like a burden has gone. There’s less clutter. When you create a playlist of entertainment, you don’t realize how much it actually start to control you after a while. Now I can sit down and have NOTHING to do, and that’s fine. I guess the big change is that I don’t feel like I’m missing out if I’m not constantly doing, watching, reading, listening to something. Missing out suits me fine now.

Next 10 days

My new goal is to spend less time in front of the screen, period. The rule is to suspend my laptop immediately when I’m done working. It’s too easy to just keep sitting there like a dumb sack of potatoes, being useless. Probably 90% of my time waste starts like that.

In reality I have tons of wonderful real-world activities I can do. Books to read, places to go, people to do see. And in my experience if I immediately turn off the computer and do something else, my work energy is recharged much faster too.

So my sub-trial for the next 10 days: turn the damn computer off.

If you need inspiration…

… what you really need is a better plan. Whether it’s a life plan, a business plan, a project plan, a relationship plan. A big plan or a small plan. A new one or a revamped old one.

Good plans bring their own inspiration. If your plan is good, following it is easy. Achieving your goals will seem trivial. You’ll be automatically motivated. If your plan is bad, any action is hopeless and you know it. No matter how much effort you put into it, it will feel like a waste – so you won’t put in any effort. Trying to maintain inspiration, motivation, energy and creativity with a crappy plan becomes impossible very quickly.

Getting a better plan may involve killing your existing plan. And that can be hard. It’s scary to admit that your current plan SUCKS, especially if you’ve had it for a long time.

But if you’re not feeling inspiration, your plan probably DOES suck.

If you’re not feeling inspiration, your plan is probably too small, lacks ambition and isn’t taking you anywhere you particularly want to go. And that sucks.

If you’re not feeling inspiration, your plan is probably vague and doesn’t seem plausible to you. Vague non-plans don’t help you at all, so they suck.

If you’re not feeling any inspiration, maybe your plan isn’t in line with your values, dreams and hopes for the world. You won’t get inspired if you think the outcome sucks.

If you’re not feeling inspiration, you’re probably living someone else’s plan. Not one you designed for yourself. Maybe it’s your parent’s plan, your boss’ plan, or your school guidance counselor’s plan. Or maybe you made it in the past. But “you” a year ago, five years ago, fifteen years ago is not “you” now. Realize that your plan has run past its sell-by date, and throw it in the trash. Because following other people’s old plans sucks.

Or if you’re not feeling inspiration, maybe your plan is that you don’t have a plan at all. And that’s a pretty sucky plan to (not) have.

If your plan sucks, change it. Make a new one. Fix an old one. Or steal someone else’s plan (one that doesn’t suck this time!)

If you can’t think of a plan, go look for one. Get outside your comfort zone. Read books and look at other people’s plans. Read this book. Or that one. Or maybe this article. Read anything. Don’t ask the people around you. Unless they are at a vastly different place in life than you, they probably don’t have a clue either.

Whatever you do, don’t dismiss inspiration as a luxury you don’t need or can’t get. And avoid all plans with that big “sucky” sound attached to them – that’s the sound of your life being flushed down the drain.

Mini-Trial: Retype 3 Popular Blog Posts

I am going to do a mini-trial based on the concept of retyping material by other writers, as a way of practicing and improving my own writing.

Rewriting known-to-be-good material from other authors is supposedly a technique many authors have used through history, among others Benjamin Franklin. I first heard about it from copywriter Dan Kennedy who mentions it as one of his earliest methods of improving his skill.

The idea is that you read through and retype, word for word, an article or text by someone else who’s style you want to learn from. As you retype each sentence, you try to think of it as being your own “voice”, even though you are retyping someone else’s text word for word. The hope is that you will slowly pick up small nuances in tone, style, vocabulary etc. and that this slowly “retrains” your own writing style.

When you read something your brain is in “picking up meaning” mode, and will happily gloss over a lot of details. When you try to retype the text however, you force your brain to work through the details in the text at a much deeper level. It will start noticing word choices, sentence lengths, paragraph structures, and will contrast them against what choices you would have made in the same context. So in a sense you are getting a crash course in another person’s style.

For me in particular it’s also about training my English, which isn’t my native language. While I feel my grammar/spelling is OK, I still have a lot to learn in terms of practical vocabulary, word choice, “tone” and so on. “Imprinting” on a native English speaker wouldn’t hurt.

What I Will Retype

I’ve picked three articles by Steve Pavlina:

10 Reasons You Should Never Get a Job
How to Build a High Traffic Web Site (or Blog)
Money and Your Path With a Heart

Why Pavlina and why these posts in particular? I enjoy Steve’s style, and I resonate with his thinking for the most part, especially in these posts. The first two posts also have a proven track record of success, as they are two of his most popular posts of all time. The last post is more recent but I just liked it.

A bonus of picking these posts in particular is that I likely won’t just be picking up on the tone and the style of writing, but also on the message, the mindset and the spirit in them, which are all excellent.

Follow-ups

I will not be posting the finished text here (there’s no point, just go read the originals!) However I will post a follow-up when I’m done.

I have no idea how long this will take, I’m guessing a day per article maybe. It depends on whether I just do this or if I continue my own writing on the side as well.

And I don’t know how much I will gain from this exercise, but as usual I’m excited to find out! :)

Always Be Willing to Quit

I’ve been having fun experimenting and expanding on the inspiration mindset I developed in my last trial. This method seems to be working exceptionally well for me, so I’d thought I’d spend the next few posts to explain some concepts behind it.

One tenet of the method that might put some people off is the required willingness to quit anything you start. In order to stay fully flexible around your work, especially creative work, you can’t afford to get too attached to any one vision of the path in front of you.

The mindset is based around prioritizing your current inspiration, motivation and creativity over existing plans and goals. And that involves completely changing course from time to time. Usually though the changes to your larger plans will be small and incremental, but they may still require you to radically change what you’re doing right now.

Most people will resist this kind of change. They prefer continuing what they’ve started, and they don’t want to risk “losing out” the their current path, even when better paths are laid out in front of them. Many people also view giving up or changing your mind as a form of defeat, because it means admitting to being wrong the first time around. The hardest part about fully following your inspiration is to break down these inner resistances.

Winners Are Willing to Quit

There’s and old work ethic adage that goes something like “winners never quit, and quitters never win”. However, this is patently bad advice. As Seth Godin responds to it in his book The Dip: Winners quit all the time! They just quit the right stuff at the right time.

In reality there are always infinite paths leading to any goal. It’s highly naive to think that the first one you happened to pick, also happens to be the best, fastest, most comfortable or most fun. Most of us are not willing to spend the time and effort necessary to explore alternatives before we start, to explore more of our own ideas, or to learn from the experience of others.

And in many cases that’s fine. You can’t explore every alternative before starting. You don’t want to be stuck in “paralysis of analysis”. But that’s also why it’s extra important to never set a plan in stone – because you know you didn’t get to explore all the alternatives before starting.

There is a lot of value in always being willing to set aside any plan, at any time. And by “plan” I mean any job, project, idea, business, relationship, education, identity, life plan or laundry list in your life that you are currently committed to. I would recommend to start having an open, non-committal and non-attached relationship to all aspects of your life, not just work.

Having Options

Being willing to quit doesn’t mean you have to quit. But it leaves you mentally and emotionally open for the possibility, and there is a lot of power in this kind of openness. Even if you never actually quit anything, there is still power in being willing to do so.

In the field of negotiations it’s commonly known that the side who is most willing to leave the table without a deal, usually wins the negotiation. By not needing any particular outcome, you are free to make any demands you want because you have nothing to lose. If you don’t get the deal you want, just move on to the next person and offer them the same terms.

The exact same mechanics hold true when picking a job, a project, a business model, a life style or whatever else. If you are not tied to any particular outcome, you can demand a better deal. And when a plan isn’t satisfactory to you anymore, just make a better one.

On the other hand if you’re never willing to give up your existing plan, then you’re stuck and will usually end up having to make a lot of compromises. Having more perceived options raises your standards for what you will accept from life. Having no options makes you do the opposite. The side in a negotiation that has no options, ends up making all the concessions.

Winners are always willing to quit because conditions change, plans change, and they get new and better ideas. Winners never accept sub-par conditions and actions just because they are listed in a TODO list, or because they initially thought it was a good idea. Winners always quit the plan if the plan sucks.

Transforming Your Goals

The idea of “quitting” doesn’t necessarily mean dumping everything and following some random creative whim. Your best ideas will usually support your existing long-term goals, not oppose them. So quitting in this context doesn’t mean giving up, just being flexible and developing the ability to effortlessly jump on to better versions of your plan as they present themselves.

You rarely have to give up your long-term goals – just your emotional dependence on them. Once you start emotionally detaching from an outcome, you will be much more open to mutate it, transform it and improve it. Your commitment to your goals will actually grow, not lessen, because you know those goals will continue to develop in sync with your own continuous development.

Improving our plans seems like something we should be able to do in any case, but in practice that’s hard. We start tying our identity up to the outcome of our actions, and develop a sort of creative tunnel vision. We start to fear finding faults in our plan, because any fault threatens the outcome. The outcome, and the plan, starts to become personally important. And soon questioning the plan means to question us, basically.

It’s typically only after everything fails and we give up on a plan completely, that we’re able see all the obvious holes and criticisms of it. I’ve been there several times myself with my own projects. It’s not without reason that many entrepreneurs report that their biggest breakthrough came just as they were in the deepest stage of despondency, and about to give everything up.

Playfulness

One way to view this mindset is in the context of playfulness. Being free to change anything at any time with no commitment is a very playful and joyful way to work. The type of motivation and energy you get from it resembles the deep motivation that children feel when they are exploring something new and fun.

There’s actually been done a considerable amount of research on playfulness and productivity. An awesome book on this subject is Drive by Daniel Pink, a book that’s really helped influence how I work and motivate myself. Here’s a short animated YouTube summary for the impatient :)

All in all, I’m finding this a very joyful way to work, think and live right now.

It does take all of the “seriousness” out of work, but that doesn’t seem to have negatively affected my productivity at all. So if the seriousness of work isn’t there to push productivity, what the heck is it there for? I don’t know, but I’m definitely not missing it :)

30 Days of No Entertainment

I’m doing something I’ve never done before, something that frankly scares me a bit: Starting today, I’m going to go entirely without any form of entertainment for 30 days.

That means no TV, no YouTube, no movies, no random web surfing, for 30 days. I’ll list the specifics below.

I have two major goals as reasons for trying this. My primary goal is to reduce screen time. I realize that I’m spending way too much time in front a screen, and my back, neck, shoulders and eyes are feeling the strain from it. I feel like these are assets that I’m currently “spending” on both work AND free time, and it’s simply becoming too much.

My secondary goal is to free up all the time spent on entertainment, and see what effect that has on my work, productivity, physical exercise level, social life and life in general.

This is NOT about trying to give up all entertainment permanently, this is ONLY for the 30 days. I’m not planning on joining a monastery any time soon. I’m also not making some sort of political or moral statement that entertainment is “bad” or anything like that. This is purely a personal challenge to see what effect my current entertainment level has on my life, and how easy (or hard) it will be to give it up.

Rules:

The trial starts today (May 9th) and ends on June 8th (there are 31 days in May.) Here’s a stricter definition of what I will and won’t be allowed to do in this period:

Forbidden:

  • ALL non-work and non-critical use of computers is forbidden. My laptop must be switched off if I’m not working.
  • TV is completely forbidden. I’m not even allowed to sit in the same room as a turned-on TV.
  • YouTube, blogs and other content sites are off limits, except for strict work purposes.
  • ALL web surfing, discussion sites, social sites, news, Twitter and email will be off limits. Yes, that means I won’t even check my email for a month.
  • Computer games are completely out of the question.

Allowed:

  • Necessary computer use (such as online banking.)
  • I can work as much as I want, even if it counts as “screen time”.
  • Watching educational videos are allowed. (I’m watching a video course on machine learning at the moment, I count that as work related.)
  • I’m allowed to read NON-FICTION, educational books (on paper, no ebooks.)
  • Pure audio entertainment (music and audio books) is allowed IF combined with some form of physical activity. These don’t conflict with my primary goal, since in fact they encourage physical exercise. I usually bring my MP3 player on long walks, so this one won’t be a big change for me.
  • Board games are technically entertainment, but allowed if they involve socializing and do not involve using a screen of any kind.

One reason why I’m allowing educational / non-fiction books and videos is that these require a lot more concentration and focus. That naturally limits how much time I spend on them. If I wanted I could watch movies for hours, but I can only watch a math-heavy video on machine learning algorithms for so long before my brain starts to fry. The other reason of course is that these contribute to my long term growth, while pure entertainment does not.

Expectations

Compared to my last 30 day trial, I expect this one to be much harder to execute. I fully expect to see some actual withdrawal symptoms in the first few days. It will be interesting to see how I cope with them.

Here are a few other predictions:

  • The first week will be hard, then it will get progressively easier.
  • I will get bored out of my skull and will need to fill the void somehow.
  • I will probably exercise more.
  • I will spend a lot more time outside.
  • I will spend more time with other people.
  • There will be more frequent posts on this blog.
  • It will be easier to focus on one thing for extended periods of time.
  • I might even get more sleep.

I considered allowing one day a week where I could binge and catch up, but I decided against it. Part of the point of a trial like this is to realize that you don’t NEED the countless hours entertainment you’re currently indulging in.

It’s like training a dog with candy; if you save it up and use it as a “reward” at the end, then you just give it even more value. I don’t want train myself to view entertainment as a reward, I want to view it as the pointless waste of time that it is. This trial isn’t about “depriving myself of fun”, it’s about genuinely changing my thoughts and habits around what fun IS.

I’m actually super excited to see how this goes! :)

I can see the potential for this making a big change in my life, but it could also pan out to do nothing at all. I’ll post updates along the way, or at least one big one at the end.

My Affiliate Link Policy

Whenever I link books, videos, seminars, programs or products I like in my blog posts, I will use affiliate links if they are available.

If you don’t know what an affiliate link is, it’s a special link to a website (for example Amazon.com) with a special code telling the site that the link came from my blog. The point is that if you buy something through the link, a small portion of that money goes to me as a “thanks” for spreading the word about the product.

I see affiliate links as a great way to support this blog without actually costing you any money. The seller (eg. Amazon) picks up the entire tab. It’s really a win/win/win solution – you win, the blog wins, and the people who made whatever it is I’m linking get more traffic. (Which, if I’m linking it, I think they deserve.)

I only ever link stuff I really like and would recommend. Turns out, there aren’t that many books or programs near the top of my “must read” list, so you’re not going to get spammed by affiliate links on this blog. It’s a very exclusive list. Yet I thought I’d write this short post about it anyway – I’m actually legally required to tell you if I’m using affiliate links, and in any case it seems like the most honest thing to do.

There is SO much crap and mediocre stuff out there, especially in the genres of personal development, business, money etc., that I am more than happy to point out the few, shining exceptions whenever I find them.

Rest assured that if I say I’m recommending something, I really mean it. If you hate this blog and don’t like supporting it, just Google the books or whatever yourself without clicking my links – the important part is that you read them :)

Inspiration Follow-Up

It’s been a couple of months since I wrote 30 Days of Inspiration, so I thought I’d do write a summary of how it went and what I learned from it.

The idea of this trial was to do only inspiration-driven work for 30 days. Specifically I wanted to not blindly follow any existing plan when I sat down to work, and I also wanted to work on not feeling any guilt or stress associated with doing this. The goal was to give myself free rein to follow sudden impulses of creativity and inspiration.

I didn’t actually stick to a strict 30 day schedule on this trial, and to be honest I don’t think that would have been fully in keeping with the spirit of the trial anyway. Instead there’s been on and off periods for the last two months, but with a growing awareness around my work and how happy I am doing it. In the long run this trial turned into more a sort of general philosophy of not staying too attached to my current plans and ideas, rather than a fixed-period trial. But I’m fine with that outcome.

Lesson 1: It Works

I guess the first thing I learned from this trial is that it was worth it. It wasn’t always easy to detach from the outcome and just follow my creativity, but when I did manage to do it I had some of the most productive periods I’ve had in years.

I think most of this gained productivity came from the fact that I could relax more and stop thinking about all the other things I were “supposed” to do. In other words, it let me focus more cleanly on the task I was doing and only that. Besides just being productive, I found these periods to also be incredibly relaxing and enjoyable, and the work just seemed to flow. I can especially recommend looking into this method if (like me) you have a lot of plans and projects, and you find it hard to do one thing without being stressed about not doing all the others.

It may sound a bit simplistic to summarize the method as “if it stresses you out, just stop thinking about it!” But that’s actually a pretty good summary. Stress and guilt will never motivate you to do your best work.

Lesson 2: It’s Harder Than It Sounds

When you try to convince yourself to throw away all your existing plans for your life, it turns out you might meet some emotional resistance. :)

Most people will likely find it very stressful to blindly follow their inspiration, and so did I, especially in the beginning. I still haven’t gotten the hang of it completely.

The deeper reason behind this stress is that you don’t really trust yourself to keep doing useful work, if you’re just following random whims of inspiration. What happens if you’ll just be “inspired” to do nothing? What if you lose all ambition and drift into laziness and inactivity? How can you achieve anything important without a solid plan?

Luckily though, these fears are mostly overblown. I discovered the best mindset for me was not “abolish all plans!”, but rather “plans are just memory aids.” You’ll still want to create and follow plans, and you’ll still make strategies and set goals. The difference is that you become much less attached to your plans and goals. They become repositories of good ideas and solutions, not lists of “things to do”.

Detaching from your plans actually improves them, because you’ll be more free to adjust your course and be flexible. I’m finding more and more that if I get stuck on writing one of these blog posts for example, the best cause of action is to either go work on another post, or to just erase everything and start from scratch. Or maybe just go do something else altogether. I’m slowly moving away from the mindset that just because I started something, I have to finish it the way I originally planned. It’s about always staying open to other possibilities.

So specific versions of you goals and plans become less important, but that just inspires you more because you’ll realize how many options you really have. You will still push yourself to achieve great things. But you’ll push for the sake of challenge, not because you’re emotionally attached to the outcome.

And yes, sometimes this means starting something and then throwing it away later. But that’s fine. Allowing yourself to do that means you’re also allowing yourself to experiment and try new things – because you’re not afraid to get “stuck” with a bad choice. Changing course is always acceptable.

Lesson 3: Detachment and Scarcity

The hardest part to deal with is the deeper issue of detaching emotionally from the outcome of your work. The fear and stress of giving up on something comes from thinking you need it to succeed in life.

This attachment really comes from a belief in scarcity – we believe we need to stick to what we have because there are no other options. The opposite belief is that of abundance, which is when you realize that there are actually options and opportunities everywhere, thousands upon thousands of them, and all you have to do is open your eyes and see them.

What this trial has really been about for me (and I only realized this a couple of weeks in), is developing a sense of abundance of opportunity. I’m starting to develop the belief that good ideas and opportunities really are everywhere, and I’m getting better at seeing them. In my experience so far, a natural flow of creativity, inspiration, happiness and freedom follow whenever I’m able to fully hold this belief.

Abundance of opportunity is the belief that it should always be easy to give up any project, because there are so many even better ones out there. The belief that it’s always a good time to review and reconsider your plans, because the probability that your current version is the best is essentially zero. Abundance is giving up the notion that you “have” to do or stick with anything – because there’s always a whole other world out there waiting for you.

More 30 Day Trials

So all in all I’d say this was a pretty successful trial! It’s succeeded in making a small but hopefully permanent change in the way I work and think. I would definitely say I feel less stress about my work now than I did two months ago.

I am planning to do more 30 day trials forward (and possibly other challenges of shorter or longer duration.) I think it’s a great format for trying new things, and it also gives me stuff to write about. :) And besides that, they are fun!

I do need some break time between trials though, as they can be pretty intense. (This one wasn’t very intense, but the next one I’m planning might be.) I’ll announce the next one as I start it, most likely.

About This Blog

This blog has been up for almost two months now, and while there are only a couple of posts published so far, I’m really enjoying writing it! I thought I’d write a few words about why I started the blog and what to expect from it going forward.

A large part of the reason I started this blog was to challenge myself in the area of writing and self expression. Blogging hasn’t exactly been the most obvious choice of hobby for me in the past, since I’ve never thought of myself as someone who likes writing or who is particularly good at it. I don’t know if it’s because of perfectionism or something else, but sitting down and writing long texts has always been a very slow and painful process for me.

So I wanted to expand my comfort zone – not just in the area of writing, but in the area of expressing myself in general. Especially expressing myself in public, which a lot of people can agree is pretty scary if you’re not used to it.

And so far I think it’s working out pretty well! I’m really enjoying writing these posts, even though it still takes me a silly amount of time to finish them. (The first post alone took me over a week.)

The other big reason to start this blog is of course that I have a lot of thoughts and ideas I’d like to share.

I’ve been getting ideas for blog posts on a wide range of topics for several years, but I’ve never made any serious attempt at writing them up or publishing them before now. One strange thing that I’ve noticed though is that once I decided and committed to actually do it, that stream of ideas has exploded into a deluge. At the current pace it doesn’t seem like I will run out of things to write about anytime soon. :)

I think I will stick to the area of personal growth, productivity and so on for a while. Mostly just because it’s fun to write on this subject, and I’ve been studying and using it in my own work for a while. And as you write it, it forces you to embody more of the positive characteristics you are writing about as well.

From the posts I’ve written or drafted so far, I find it’s really fun to go deep into yourself and write down your innermost thoughts for the world to see. Maybe the fact that I’ve never felt very comfortable with this before makes it feel extra liberating to finally sit down and do it. I guess it’s about taking ownership of something that’s previously been a big challenge, and mastering it on your own terms.

The hard part seems to be finding the right “tone” of a post, and to get into the flow of writing. I’m at a stage where I can very often write something and see that it’s “wrong”, but I can’t see how to fix it. And it’s often a challenge to lock on to the exact right message, and figuring out exactly what it is you want to convey. But once I get a mental lock, it’s like flipping a switch and suddenly I can write pages of text without stop.

I really think that getting better at writing – or any form of expression – is in large part about finding your inner “voice”, the one that authentically represents the real you. And the only way to get better at that is to practice. My biggest goal as a blogger and writer right now is to get better at finding that flow faster. And I can already feel that every time I write a new paragraph, edit a section, or begin a new post, I’m getting a tiny bit better at it.

19 More Ways to Supercharge Your Productivity

Don’t miss the first part of this article: 21 Ways to Supercharge Your Productivity.

In the previous post I listed 21 of my best tricks and tips for keeping up your productivity and motivation, all of which I’ve used and improved over several years of working at home as a self-employed developer. Many of those 21 methods deal with motivation and higher-level issues, which of course are important parts of productivity.

The 19 items we’ll go through in this post are more practical in nature and relate more to the flow of working. These tips assume you’re already super motivated and know exactly what you want, they deal more with how to get stuff done.

Again, don’t feel you have to use all of these methods. The lists are only meant as an inspiration for things to look into. Also, some of the items may be somewhat situational, and I don’t personally use all of them all of the time. So feel free to pick and choose the ones that apply to you.

On the other hand, if something appears completely new or alien to you, don’t be afraid to try it out either. It could be the solution to a problem you don’t even know you have. It’s important to accept the fact that we aren’t always aware of all the issues holding us back, and often experimentation and trying new things can be the best way to move forward in life in general.

So here are my 19 more “practical” productivity tips:

  1. Stop multi-tasking. Research shows that multi-tasking is even worse for your concentration than smoking pot. To avoid this, force all your work sessions to focus on one task and one task only. Even better, pick one focus for the day, or even for each week. Push back everything else. You can schedule some “planned multitasking” time later to catch up to small neglected tasks.
  2. Work for 45 minutes. I love this method. Use a timer, and as long as it is running you are on the clock, in dedicated work time. When the timer runs out, you are DONE. I love it because it allows you to disconnect completely from everything while working, and then disconnect completely from work between sessions. Polarize your time into either 100% work or 100% free time. You don’t have to do exactly 45 minutes, but somewhere in the 45-60 minute range is optimal for most people.
  3. Make interruptions impossible. During your 45 minute work time, no interruptions are allowed. You are completely single-tasking during this time. That means no surfing, no cell phone (turn it off!), no conversations (lock the door!), no background TV or radio, no email or messaging (except if it’s part of the work), and certainly no Facebook, Twitter or similar. You’re not even allowed to go to the toilet, unless it’s an emergency. Yes it’s hard at first, but that’s why you’re limiting it to 45 minutes.
  4. Make procrastination impossible. Simply telling yourself “I have to stop procrastinating” doesn’t do anything. That’s the equivalent of buying a bunch of candy, putting it on your desk in front of you and saying “I’m not going to eat it.” Deal with procrastination by removing even the possibility of doing it from your life, or by putting significant hurdles in the way. You don’t have to eliminate everything, just find the ones that drain the most time and energy from your work, and block them. For me, it’s video games and certain websites. I deal with it by uninstalling the video games and using BlockSite on the sites.
  5. Worship the “zone”. The zone happens when there is an ideal match-up between skill and challenge. Not so easy that it’s boring, not so hard that it’s frustrating. This is where your maximum motivation and productivity lies. Align your tasks to match your current skill, and make sure the challenge gradually rises over time so you don’t get bored. Recognize slumps in productivity that come from either doing something too repetitive or from being overwhelmed with problems you don’t know how to solve.
  6. Drop tasks. Use the 80/20 rule, and ask yourself: Do I actually have to do this task? Will doing it (and all that depends on it) actually make my life better? Do things really depend on it, or am I just accepting that assumption without question? Don’t be surprised if as much as half of your planned work could actually be ditched without significant consequences.
  7. Outsource or delegate tasks. The number one biggest mistake people do, especially entrepreneurs, is thinking they have to do everything. Instead, give tasks to employees, partners, coworkers, people on Elance, or crowdsource it. Outsourcing only begins when you’re willing to say “I’m not going to do this boring sh*t myself, no matter what.”
  8. Higher-level optimization. Premature optimization is the root of all evil. We spend so much time trying to be “effective” at small tasks, when we overlook the bigger structural changes we could do that would make all those small tasks irrelevant. In the programming world, optimizing something before you know for certain that it’s necessary, is considered the highest of sins. Before getting lost in details and minutiae, ask yourself if that’s really the most important work you can do right now.
  9. Monitor your energy. Nothing works if your body does not cooperate. Are you tired? Unfocused? Hungry? Are you’re really in a state to produce top notch results right now? I sometimes visualize my energy as a percentage between 0% and 100%, with 100% being laser focused and 0% being unconsciousness. You should refuse to ever work at percentages below 70%-75%. And when you’re not working, do things that recharge your energy levels as efficiently as possible.
  10. Take naps. If the thought of faceplanting into a pillow sounds like heaven to you right now, chances are that’s exactly what you need to do. If you work in an environment without a ready supply of pillows, bring your own :)
  11. Take real breaks. I have short breaks and long breaks between work sessions. Short breaks last 10-30 minutes, or until I feel like working again. Long breaks are a minimum of four hours, and have to include eating, resting in a horizontal position, minimal computer time and ideally some form of physical exercise. The goal is to recharge those batteries and be well rested for the next work sessions.
  12. Guilt-free play. When you have time off, make it real time off. Don’t get stuck in the “gray zone” where you’re not really working, but still thinking about work. Create dedicated times every day where work ceases to exist and you can do whatever you want. Also take some days off every week. Some people do one week on, one week off. Remember that your work is there to support your life, not the other way around.
  13. Get enough sleep. I can’t stress this one enough. Besides having a severe impact on productivity, sleep deprivation has been linked to everything from depression and hormonal disturbances to increased risk of diabetes and heart disease. Get enough sleep.
  14. Exercise regularly. Exercise has both short-term and long-term positive effects on productivity. Getting fresh oxygen pumping through your body increases your mental energy and clarity. Many highly successful people swear to starting every day with a run. Long-term cardio exercise has an enormous impact on your general energy levels as well.
  15. Keep a level blood sugar. Your energy and focus suffer greatly from dips in blood sugar. Try to eat regularly and avoid high-carb foods and snacks if they make you tired. Fixing your diet is one of those things (along with exercise) that people never expect to make a big difference, but that almost aways does. It’s worth a try.
  16. Avoid painful injuries. Chronic pain will make your brain associate work with pain, and it will subconsciously start pushing you away from work to protect you. You won’t know what happened, you’ll just not “feel like working” a lot of the time. It took me a long time to realize how much my stiff neck and shoulders were hampering my productivity this way. Do exercises to counteract repetitive strain injuries, stretch often, and find a good ergonomic work position that works for you. If your work is computer based, make sure you take breaks that are NOT in front of the computer.
  17. Focus on habit building. New years resolutions and sudden bursts of “motivation” to exercise, work more, eat healthy food etc rarely work. We are creatures of habit. Only by making these practices into regular habits will they actually get done. New years resolutions and other such feeble attempts are usually based entirely on guilt, not on any serious attempt to change anything. Instead, focus on only one new habit at a time, maybe for a few months each, and spend your energy on building it into a natural part of your life rather than on straining to do some activity you hate. And for Zeus’s sake don’t wait until January to get started.
  18. Study productivity. Thousands of highly successful and productive people have shared their very best thoughts on productivity in books, seminars, blogs and so on. Read some of them! My personal favorites include The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey (though it covers a lot more than productivity), The Now Habit by Neil Fiore, and a video program called Wake Up Productive by Eben Pagan, which I unfortunately couldn’t find a link to (maybe google will be kinder to you.) This blog post also counts :)
  19. Make your own list. The final tip is to figure out what works for you, and write it down! It’s all too common to start doing something good, do it for a while, and then forget about it. Write down your own solutions and keep them around to be rediscovered later. Often when rereading you will go “Oh yeah, I forgot about that one! That DID work for a while, lets try it again.”

Make sure to also check out the previous post in this series and the follow-up, both linked below.

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21 Ways to Supercharge Your Productivity

21 Ways To Supercharge Your Productivity

For the last few years I’ve been working solo from my own home as a software developer, on my own projects and being my own boss. And in my experience the absolute biggest challenge you face when working from home is to keep yourself motivated and productive, especially in face of the inevitable difficulties and uncertainties that come with trying to make it on your own.

This post lists some of the best productivity tricks, methods and mindsets I’ve found since I went solo a few years ago. I’ve had big challenges with my own productivity at times, so over the years I’ve seen and tried a ton of different tips and suggestions from various books, seminars, blogs etc. This is a list of some of my favorites, the ones that have worked consistently and that I’m still using to this day.

You don’t have to be a home worker or self employed to benefit from this list. Just think of self employment as a special case, where you have to make all the decisions as well as do the work. Some of the points below deal with strategic decision making, but most are just about getting the work done and aren’t specific to either case.

The list takes a bit of a shotgun approach, as it covers a lot of varied topics and doesn’t go into too much detail on any of them. Some might be familiar to you already, while others might be new. Some might seem completely out of left field.

Remember you don’t have to do or read all of them though! The list is only meant as an inspiration for things to look into. Feel free to pick and choose what works best for you in your current situation.

  1. Do work you love. This is the most important one by far. Many so-called “productivity” issues are really about lack of motivation. Trying to be “productive” when you don’t like what you’re doing is going to be a tough uphill struggle – at best. I recommend that you don’t waste your life on pointless, non-motivating activity, and instead go look for more inspiring work. That could mean changing projects, changing jobs or changing your entire career field, whatever it takes. The stress from non-motivation alone is enough to qualify it as a serious health hazard.
  2. Follow your inspiration. Try putting less emphasis on your current plans and the things you have “decided” to do already. Instead move more in the direction of your current inspiration. This requires possibly breaking some commitments and promises, or at least refraining from making any more promises. If you want to take it all out, you can do as I did and do a full 30-day trial where you explore only inspiring work and put aside all existing commitments and plans. It’s harder than it sounds, but very interesting. :) This blog post is one of the results of that experiment.
  3. Follow your happiness. What makes you happy about your current work? Decide to reorient all your goals around those things. Orient away from things that make you unhappy. For example, if you really like selling and marketing your own products but don’t actually like making them, find a way to sell other people’s products instead. Or it can be something small, maybe you just don’t like the tools you are using. Move away from activities you don’t like because they will only drain your energy.
  4. Speed up. Sometimes we’re not productive simply because we’re not forcing ourselves to be. Set shorter deadlines. Push yourself. Double your planned results for this week. Try it, it’s fun when you view it as a personal challenge.
  5. Slow down. Do you feel you have to get results, NOW? Pushing desperately for results will kill your motivation like nothing else. Slow down, stop pushing, take the time to do things properly. Relax and enjoy your work. One hour of calm focus is worth more than ten hours of tense straining.
  6. Ship more often. Create a process that is focused on shipping faster. “Shipping” can mean releasing software, publishing a blog post, sharing results with coworkers, or anything that pushes your work out into the real world. Seeing your work come to life is incredibly motivating for productivity. Sitting on it is not. Look into lean methods and do everything you can to apply them to your work flow.
  7. Daily goals. Create regular goals – daily, weekly, monthly. Always have some immediate goal(s) in front of you that inspire you to push just that little bit extra to meet the deadline. The effect of something as simple as inventing a random “goal for the day” can be magical.
  8. Make work fun. Refuse to accept that work is boring. That’s not a life for you. Sure, not ALL work is fun, but on the whole it should be. The goals should inspire you. The visions you have for the future should energize you. And the boring parts along the way shouldn’t be horrible either. If all this sounds like an impossible pipe dream, you probably need a career change.
  9. Risk-free starting. The hardest part is always to start. Continuing is orders of magnitude easier. Create an environment where you can start without commitment or risk. Do 5-minute, 1-minute or even 10-second starts, where starting something explicitly does not obligate you to keep working on it. This is particularly useful when you have something boring to do and would rather be somewhere else. Convince yourself that working on it for five minutes is better than nothing.
  10. Work out of order. Reorganize your TODO list so you can work on it in any order. Break tasks into pieces and gather them into sub-projects, each with their own TODO lists. Whenever you are bored with one sub-project, switch to another. Don’t get stuck staring at a problem if you can easily get stuff done elsewhere.
  11. Start from your clarity. What are you MOST certain about in your plans? Start where you see things most clearly. This is usually where you’ll get stuff done the fastest. This can mean working “top-down” and designing the end result first. Or it can mean starting at a random point in the middle because you know exactly how to do that part.
  12. Do the hardest thing first. If there’s a particularly difficult or unpleasant task on your list, it can kill the motivation to do anything else. The more fear you have associated with it the worse it is. Jump into it and get it out of the way. You will feel wonderful afterwards, trust me! :)
  13. Do the easiest thing first. Sometimes what’s really needed is an easy start to get you warmed up. Find the simplest, most effortless thing on your list and start there.
  14. Attack one thing every day. Pick one target task for the day and attack it ruthlessly with everything you got. Aggressive language helps here. Get some real aggression out on that mofo. Every day is wabbit season.
  15. Choose to enjoy boring tasks. Ask yourself: how can I get this done and enjoy it? Tony Robbins has a story where he had a backlog of a hundred telephone calls at one point. When he asked himself that question, he realized that: Wait, I just bought a new Jacuzzi! So he decided to take a bath and call all hundred people from there, joking with everyone about how much he was enjoying his bubble bath and how much fun he was having calling everybody! There is always SOME way you can make boring tasks more enjoyable.
  16. Spend more time on strategy. A common tip to entrepreneurs is to spend more time ON the business than IN it. All of us can benefit from thinking more about WHY we are doing what we are doing, WHERE we are going and HOW we can get there faster. After all, getting stuff done isn’t worth much if it’s the wrong stuff. Strategy means picking the right destination, then figuring out how to get there.
  17. Clarify expectations. Get more detailed clarity about what is expected of your work. Who is the audience? What end purpose does it serve? At what point is it “good enough”? Lack of clarity just leads to misplaced perfectionism and endless fussing over irrelevant details.
  18. Sort out fears and conflicts. We often procrastinate to avoid difficult emotions. Are you afraid what people will think of your work? Is your work not turning out the way you imagined it? Do you have conflicting goals for what you want in your life? Take the time to figure these things out, and count it as work time because it’s worth the effort.
  19. Meditate. Probably 90% of what’s holding us back from performing well are emotions and fears around work. Meditation is an opportunity to “defocus” from your current life situation and get in touch with reality around you. Besides removing stress it also helps you see your own situation in perspective. True inner peace is when you realize that all your problems exist only in your head, they aren’t more real or important than you make them out to be.
  20. Work on your skills. Figure out where you are spending an inordinate amount of time, and get better at it. If you frequently get stuck on one specific task, isolate that task and practice it over and over. See productivity as a skill that you can work on, like a basket ball player works on shooting hoops.
  21. Educate yourself. Whatever you are doing, a big key to getting more productive is to get better at it. Besides honing your skills, you should also stay educated on the latest methods and techniques, and be prepared to put in the effort necessary to become excellent at them. Just because you’ve been doing the same thing for ten years doesn’t mean it’s the best way to do it – not by a long shot.

That’s it for this list! I originally planned 40 elements here instead of just 21, but I decided to follow my own advice and split the post in two so I could ship it faster. The follow-up is linked below.

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19 More Ways to Supercharge Your Productivity