March 10, 2021

Lifecamp Newsletter #12

How to get to inbox zero, pick your perfect productivity method, boot camp for your brain, a party game, and more


How’s it going out there? I’m still busy with home improvements and baby-proofing, having hung new blinds, mirrors, and baby gates and shuffled furniture around over the last couple of weeks. As I sit down to write this, I have just finished building a new reclaimed pine dining table. 

Having a good quality table to eat and work at is something I have always placed a lot of value on. I spend a lot of time there, so it’s important to have the right one. This one is super-sturdy, looks great, and feels even better to sit at. I’m looking forward to spending many hours there over the coming years. 

(I was joking with a couple of people this week about how buying a new dining table felt more grown-up than having a baby. I don’t know why, but it’s true.)

This is issue 12, which means Lifecamp is one year old. I really enjoy putting this newsletter together. It’s a great way of capturing what I have been focusing on and learning each month. And it’s fun being able to share what piques my curiosity with you guys. If there are things you would like me to cover, just hit reply and send me some feedback. I’d love to hear from you.

Since this is the newsletter’s birthday (and mine too, as it happens), let’s play a quick party game. Close your eyes, then take your dominant hand and draw the letter Q in front of your forehead. Remember which eye you drew the little tail of the letter over, your left or your right. This is going to tell you something about yourself. I won’t give the game away just yet. Read on to find out the answer.

The joy of inbox zero and how to get there

In last month’s newsletter, I included a quick overview of how I handle my email in less than an hour a day. Smart email management seems to be a topic people like to learn about, so I have expanded it into a more detailed article. If you want to know how to get to inbox zero and learn a cool tactic that puts a clear, hard stop on how many emails you answer each day while never having a backlog, you can read it here.

Ryan Holiday’s 100 short rules for a better life

Erudite Stoicism advocate Ryan Holiday recently published an article called 100 (Short) Rules For A Better Life. It is absolutely worth the two minutes it will take you to read, so take a look after you are done with this newsletter. It’s a good one to bookmark and revisit when you’re feeling uninspired. A couple of my favourite rules; see the beauty in the mundane, and Lighten up. Relax. (Whatever it is, you’re probably taking it too seriously.)

Find the Best Productivity Method For You

I have always been a geek for productivity systems, having tried most of the established ones at some point or other. Since finding one that worked for me, I have never looked back and have been using the same system — a combination of a to-do list, a daily focus task, and time-blocking — for years now. 

People often ask me for productivity advice, but it can be difficult to give. What works for me may not work for someone else. You have to find a system that fits your personal style and meets your particular needs. 
But I recently found a handy quick quiz that helps you identify the right productivity method for you. I tested it, and it recommended to me the system that I already use, which gives me some faith in it. 

The quiz was created by the team at productivity app Todoist. There’s a whole industry built around advising people which productivity apps they should use. My take has always been that it doesn’t matter which specific apps you use; it’s what you do with them that counts. Don’t overthink things. Just find the ones that work for you and stick with them. The fewer, the better. 

Having said that, Todoist is pretty good. I have recently switched to it because I needed a way of scheduling recurring tasks and reminders that could be 100% done from my phone. (Now I am a parent, I don’t get to sit down with my notebook and computer whenever I like, so my old system was no longer working.)

I like Todoist because it is easy to use. You can quickly set scheduled tasks and reminders just by using everyday language when you create them. 

For example, by simply typing “Put bin out 9pm every Thursday,” the app is smart enough to schedule a recurring phone notification reminding me to put my bin out for collection every Thursday evening. There is no need to wade through lots of menus. Pretty rad. 

The app has freed my brain up, and I am now a convert. The best thing? The app’s free plan includes other features, such as task tagging, and should be all most people need. If you’re looking for a powerful, easy-to-use, reminder/to-do app, give it a whirl.

Related: If you are not working on the most important thing, then you are procrastinating

Procrastination is the enemy of productivity. One of the more insidious forms of procrastination is working on something we think is moving us towards our goal but is actually distracting us and preventing us from doing what really matters.

Here’s a great article that looks at how we trick ourselves into feeling productive without actually making progress and how we can avoid falling into that trap. If you always feel busy while still seeming to get nowhere quickly, this will be a good one for you.

Boot Camp for your brain

The human mind is fascinating. It’s the most complex known structure in the universe and is capable of some amazing things. Still, humans are pretty fallible, and our minds play tricks on us all the time. I’m endlessly curious about how our brains work, especially how we perceive and make sense of the world. Yet, despite our brain’s sophistication, it has some serious limitations that we are usually unaware of. For a start, we tend to reduce reality down to our personal knowledge and largely ignore what we don’t experience firsthand.

This gap between objective and subjective reality intrigues me. I am always keen to better understand how my brain works so I can improve my thought processes and be more self-aware. 

I have been a fan of Derren Brown since he first appeared on TV in the early noughties. In case you are not aware of Derren Brown, he is an illusionist, author, and showman with a mastery of mind manipulation. He currently has a four-hour audio series called Boot Camp for the Brain available on Audible. In it, he explores brains’ natural quirks and offers ways to overcome them so we can think and act smarter. 

It heavily references Daniel Kahneman’s book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, and covers similar ground. So, if you have been intending to read that book but never got around to it, this series may be a decent substitute. Even if Kahneman’s book isn’t on your reading list, Bootcamp is still worth a listen. Not only is it entertaining, but it will also make you more aware of your cognitive biases and help you sharpen your thinking.

The series is where I stole the party game of drawing a Q in front of your forehead from. So now is probably a good time to explain the point of the game. 

Remember which eye you drew the tail of the Q over? If it was your right eye (i.e., you drew the Q facing the way you could read it), you have an internal view of the world. This means you see things from your own perspective and tend to be fairly honest and a straight shooter. 

If you drew the tail above your left eye, so your Q was facing out for other people to read, then you have an external view of the world. This makes you more likely to see things from other people’s perspective. This is a useful trait that can help you be more empathetic but can make you more likely to be deceitful or manipulative too.

For the record, I drew the Q so I could read it, but I hesitated and contemplated drawing it facing out to the world. I’m not sure if this says anything about my worldview or is more to do with my design training and background when I regularly had to think about such things.

Book of the Month: Show Your Work

Austin Kleon’s Show Your Work is an awesome little book that encourages people to share their work online. Its small, creative design made me suspect that it might be a bit thin and gimmicky. Boy, was I wrong. 

Kleon makes a compelling case that everybody should have a corner of the internet that they call their own — be it a website, blog, or social media account — and regularly share what they are working on, regardless of the kind of work they do. The book has ten wonderfully written short chapters, each based on an individual principle backed up with interesting stories and examples that urge the reader to get out there and share their work. 

If you don’t know what to share, Kleon asserts, start by sharing your interests and curating things you like, then take it from there. I’m a firm believer in his manifesto. Publishing things you have done or care about helps you connect with like-minded people and always leads to good things. This book is a superb little dose of inspiration. If you already publish online, you will love it. If you don’t, it will make you want to start.

Final thought

One of my favourite ways to wind down before going to sleep is to listen to YouTube videos about fun thought experiments. I like ones that are told as stories I can follow by listening to the audio without watching the visuals. That way, I can avoid staring at a screen last thing at night. 

There are loads of these videos out there, and YouTube’s algorithm does a great job at feeding me a neverending stream of them. They have the perfect mix of light, entertaining narrative and leftfield ideas that suits the half-awake state my brain is in as I drift off to sleep. Occasionally, I stumble across something profound among the absurd notions in the stories. Listening to this video the other night, I was struck by this phrase:

“The greatest work is that which strives for truth.”

To me, this idea speaks of great art. But it also poses a question to me about having a North Star that guides the work you do. And I would like to throw that question out to you, dear reader; What is your North Star, and what truth do you strive for in your work?

That’s a deep note to finish with but a good nugget to chew on.

Until next month,