How to work out what we really want, do more in less time, and find the big ideas that are right under our noses
I hope this newsletter finds you full of the joys of spring. I am enjoying the lighter nights and getting out for evening walks again, even though March has felt long for some reason. I returned to work at the start of the month after a three-month sabbatical. The break has allowed me to reset myself and see things with a fresh perspective. My workflow is leaner, I am prioritising better, and I am questioning things a lot more.
I have implemented the Yesterbox email management system I mentioned last month, and it’s really working for me. The inbox battle feels much more winnable when there is a clear end in sight each day.
My time away from work has given me the headspace to be more reflective. Last year I began keeping a reflective journal as part of my coaching training. That practice has been so beneficial for my self-awareness that I started doing a weekly review in my personal life at the start of this year. It gives me a chance to regularly check in with myself, see what is going well and not so well, decide where to focus my energies, and how to course-correct where appropriate.
It’s amazing how often I think my week has been unproductive, only to realise that I have accomplished plenty upon conducting my review. On the flip side, it also helps me identify any shortcomings I may be overlooking. I use a standard set of questions for consistency from week to week, which has a couple of key benefits:
- It makes things easy. I don’t have to think about what I want to reflect on. The prompts are already there. I can sit down and start writing straight away.
- It stops me from ignoring the difficult stuff. Answering a predetermined set of questions means that I can’t choose to conveniently brush aside things that aren’t going as well as I would like.
My review process has two parts. First, I look back at key moments from the previous week, then I look ahead to the coming week. I use the insights gleaned from the first part to inform my plan for the week ahead. You can read about my process in more detail and see the questions I use here. If you already have a practice like this, you know how powerful it is. If not, I highly recommend starting one.
The sprint method
Shaunta Grimes, who runs the Ninja Writers writing community, recently started hosting daily 10-minute writing sprints on YouTube. The idea behind the sessions is to give people a pre-scheduled window to work on a writing project each day. I have been taking part on busy days to guarantee myself some writing time and have found it really beneficial.
Having some non-negotiable time scheduled in my calendar gives me the discipline to show up no matter what, which I find invaluable. It has also been motivating to see how much I can achieve in a short space of time. Ten minutes doesn’t sound like a lot, but I am getting between 300-400 words down each sprint. They need some editing, but even so, the word count soon racks up when you make a couple of sprints each day.
One of my goals for this year was to concentrate on writing shorter articles focused on single ideas. The sprint sessions support this goal by helping me to think in smaller packets, resulting in short, tight pieces that I can complete during one or two sprints. I have been enjoying this sprinting method so much that I am now thinking about how I can apply it to generate higher output in other areas of my life.
Two ways to use visualisation techniques
Visualisation techniques are really powerful. They are like a form of magic that allows you to conjure real-world results just by using your mind. Crazy as it sounds, you can even experience the benefits of exercise — the definition of physical activity — by merely visualising yourself carrying out certain muscle movements.
But visualisation techniques have more uses than making mental gym sessions while sitting on the sofa possible. Here are two ways you can use visualisation techniques to achieve your goals:
- Visualise the good stuff
Imagine what your life will look like at the end of the journey, once you have accomplished your goal. What will be different? How will you feel?
This can be a powerful motivator to commit to a project and do the work so you can reap the rewards.
- Visualise the bad stuff
Anticipate the obstacles and setbacks you may encounter along the way. Come up with strategies for how you will overcome them. This will help you know what to do when the going gets tough so you can push through instead of quitting.
Quick life tip
To keep your kitchen knives sharp, use the back of the blade when transferring food from your chopping board to the pan. Scraping the cutting edge across the board’s surface will quickly dull your blade.
What do we really want?
I write a lot about productivity and goal attainment. But we need to put our goals in context. To make sure they are right for us, it is important to step back and think about why we choose our particular objectives and what their ultimate purpose is.
French philosopher René Girard had a theory that we don’t really want the things we think we want. What we actually want is to be like certain people. The things we find ourselves wishing for (possessions, clothes, roles in society) are merely artefacts that represent the people we want to emulate. He called this trait mimetic desire — a desire to mimic our role models.
Girard argued that this desire to be like other people comes from human being’s need to belong, making it a powerful driver of our behaviour that we are largely unconscious of. I find his theory fascinating and think it sheds some light on what truly motivates us. Here’s a primer on it if you want to know more (about both Girard’s philosophy and yourself).
Book of the Month: The Psychology of Money
I have mentioned financial writer Morgan Housel previously in this newsletter. A few months back, he released a book, The Psychology of Money, that aims to help us better understand our relationship with money. He starts with the premise that financial success isn’t a hard science; it is a soft skill, where how you behave is more important than what you know. The problem for most people is that they behave badly, so money slips through their fingers.
There are twenty short chapters, each covering a specific point about how money works and how we think about it. Too often, Housel says, these two things don’t tally. So, much of the book’s purpose is to help us better understand how money functions in the real world so we can modify our behaviour accordingly.
Housel does an excellent job of presenting practical advice for managing your money in a simple, non-technical manner. He simplifies investing by providing some basic core principles to help with financial decision-making and shares valuable personal finance lessons that are relevant to everyone.
Morgan’s ability to demystify how money works makes this one of the most useful books on managing your finances you can read. Regardless of your financial situation or goals, there will be some lessons you can apply to set yourself up for success.
A recent conversation I had on Twitter got me thinking about where ideas come from. Reading books and consuming content by interesting people are obvious ways to expose ourselves to new ideas. But if we slow down and create some mental space for ourselves, we can often find fertile ground in our own lives, right under our noses.
That’s easier said than done in our “always-on” culture, but turning your smartphone off occasionally or going on a social media detox can help. By taking the time to reflect more deeply on our own experiences, new insights that we can leverage often emerge. A question I have been asking myself lately and getting a lot of value from is:
“What are the macro lessons from your micro experiences?”
Answering this question for myself has uncovered some thoughts I will be writing about in the coming weeks. Until then, I will leave you with this quote from the late, great Anaïs Nin:
“We see the world not as it is, but as we are.”
Until next month,