I’ve been struggling with productivity since forever.
I’ve always seen myself as a lazy person.
Probably this is why I love so much to study tools, tactics, and strategies to be more productive. I want to find out how a lazy person can be productive at the same time.
I can’t remember how many things I’ve tried from goal settings, “Pomodoro” techniques, time management, early rising, focus bubbles, daily habits and so on.
I haven’t found the perfect solution for myself, yet.
But through all this experimenting and play I’ve learned one important thing.
Behaviors that are not in tune with who I am don’t last.
You see, my problem has always been that I can get a lot done in one hour and waste a full afternoon doing nothing. When I was a kid, I was able to read a very long book in two hours, and then I couldn’t finish my homework in a whole afternoon.
Our behaviors are – usually – a reflection of our identity. And this is why we typically fail with productivity tools and strategy. We force them upon our identity instead of shaping them around our identity.
Most of the productivity methodologies aim at increasing what you produce (having) focusing on improving the process (doing), but in doing so, they overlook what you believe (being). But if your doing is not aligned with your being, it’s like rowing against the current. At some point, you’ll give up.
Any effort to become more productive, as an individual or team, should start by focusing on who you are; your identity and beliefs.
Be more to do more.
“Before you step into someone else’s shoes, remember to take off your own.” — Devan Capur*
We all have a frame through which we perceive and interpret reality. This frame, or filter, is based on the beliefs, assumptions we develop through our life since we were kids. This frame is vital, it helps us get through life filtering out the flood of data flowing through our senses.
Problems arise when we mistake our frame for the truth, and we lock ourselves inside a bubble becoming blind to the infinite possibilities outside it.
When we enter a conversation with this mindset, we create conflicts and tensions. Because we assume to know the truth, we can’t understand why others can’t see it. It’s so obvious.
We use expressions such as “you should …”, “you think …”.
We can really understand the perspective of someone else until we step out of our bubble.
If you really want to have a meaningful creative conversation, enter empty.
* I found the quote on the book Nonflict by Amir Kfir and Stephen Hecht
“Outcomes are about what you get. Processes are about what you do. Identity is about what you believe.” — James Clear
I love lean and sleek systems to help me work better. There are many of them out there created by successful people who’ve decided to share their strategies with all of us.
The problem is that most of the time, despite my efforts in applying their strategies, I didn’t get their results.
It took me a while to realise that all these great strategies, tools and methods were the results of the unique journeys of their creators.
Yes, they are about how they do things, but they are rooted in their identity. In who they are.
A winning strategy is one that is rooted in your identity. It is only when your WHO and your HOW are aligned that your results, the WHAT, really improve.
This reminded me of the Japanese word Shuhari, that represents the three stages of learning to mastery in martial arts. In short, the three steps of becoming a master are; to repeat, to detach and to transcend.
Studying and applying existing models is the starting point. But we must continuously check what is working and what not, what comes natural and where the resistance is. After a while, we can learn what is aligned with our identity, keep and leave the rest. In the end, we will learn to combine pieces from all the different sources and make our own way.
Our actions are more effective when they aligned with our identity.
This alignment creates a resonance that amplifies the impact of what we do. Resonance is the phenomenon that occurs when we apply vibration to an object that is equal (or nearly equal) to the natural frequency of that same object.
Resonance can be incredibly powerful. In 1940 the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapsed because regular speed winds produced oscillations that matched the bridge’s natural frequency.
The same principle applies to our words and actions. When they resonate with our identity, our natural frequency, they become incredibly impactful. And that works for individuals, teams, and organizations.
That doesn’t mean that we should do is predefined in who we are.
“Genes can predispose, but they don’t predetermine.” — Gabor Mate
But we all have natural inclinations and. When we have clarity about who we are, we can design our unique journey towards our goals.
At the beginning of every learning process, it is natural to model our actions on someone else who already achieved what we want. But at some point, we must understand our uniqueness and find our own model if we really want to leap forward.
One of the problems when we want to install a new habit, it’s the delayed reward that comes with it. The costs of a good habit are in the present while the reward is potentially somewhere in the future. In general, with bad habits, it’s the opposite.
Unfortunately, our brain hasn’t changed much from our prehistoric ancestors. Because their primary goal was to survive, our brain favors the present more than the future.
This is why for most of us it’s easy to slip into bad habits while it takes a lot of effort to start a new one.
However, being aware of this we can trick our mind adding an immediate reward to the habit we want to start. Something that makes you feel good as soon as you finished the activity you want to transform into a recurring practice.
But there’s a caveat.
The reward must be consistent with your identity and the one habit you want to create.
If you want to create the habit of training every day to get fit, you can’t use ice cream as a reward. It would send contradictory messages to your brain.
The more the habit becomes natural for you, the less you’ll need the reward. The simple act of doing your practice will be rewarding.
For me, the challenge is often the reward. When I started this writing habit, I printed a simple grid of 90 squares, and I challenge myself to tick all of them in 90 days. Seeing that “X” every day was my immediate reward. It made me feel good enough to keep going until it became natural.
In the early 1990s, the neuroscientist Antonio Damasio and his wife Hanna where studying patients with brain lesions that were affecting their ability to feel emotions but not their reason capabilities. They observed that when emotions and feelings are impaired, we are unable to make decisions.
Anytime we need to make a choice, we all want to make the most reasonable and objective one. This is particularly true in working environments. We are often pushed to leave our emotions out and make rational choices. The incredible amount of data to which we have access at any moment should always allow us to make the right or at least a good decision.
But does it?
I remember when we had to choose our second flat to rent in London. We spent weeks browsing websites, talking with agencies and viewing options to find the perfect fit. In the end, we choose one that ticks all the boxes. We never really enjoyed that place. After one year we started looking again. Only this time we left more space to our feeling. We ended up with the most unexpected, and a bit fool choice, where we had our best time in London.
What would happen if, instead of ignoring them, we observe and become aware of our emotions and feeling?
“It is emotion that allows you to mark things as good, bad, or indifferent.” — Antonio Damasio
I am fascinated by the paradox of human behaviors. And they are everywhere.
Everyone wants to be heard, so we all talk louder and louder (figuratively on social media, for real in meetings) and as a result, nobody listens.
When we are drowning in a problem, we double the effort. But as the instructors teach in swimming lessons, the more you move to stay afloat, the more likely you’re going under.
When we feel lost, we go anywhere to find ourselves. Yet, when we were kids, they taught us that if you are lost, you should stay where you are until your parents come and find you.
We want for everyone we love to be happy, so we sacrifice our own happiness for them. And if they do the same, what remains, in the end, is only the sacrifice, while the joy is gone. What would give more pleasure to someone that loves you, to see you happy?
I don’t have a magical recipe, but lately, I found that there is enormous power in taking a pause to step out of the race and just observe.
I just came back from a conference where incredible people and leaders discussed how to make the world a better place. Last week millions of students all over the world walked together on the streets to ask adults to do something instead of just talking. A terrorist attack in New Zealand reminded us of the fragility of peace.
Before all these big challenges it’s easy to feel small and powerless.
What can I do? What can a single person do?
One of the speakers at the conference said that “without peace at the individual level, we can’t create peace in the world“.
We cannot change the world without changing ourselves before.
So, the question shifts from how can we make the world better to how I can make myself better.
It all starts within.
A friend reminded me that the best gift I can give to the world is to fully express my potential. And love.
Our brain is a fantastic predicting machine.
It is continuously assessing the environment against what it already knows to find patterns to apply. Anytime an action creates pleasure, it contributes to the creation of a pattern. When anything generates pain, the brain puts an alert label on it so to be ready to recognise the threat in the future. It is part of our natural survival instinct.
This process makes us very efficient. Being aware of it we can use it to our advantage to create patterns that help grow and become the person we want to be. There are plenty of good books and programs on how to develop positive habits.
Once I watched a video of a personal trainer, explaining that our body works in the same way. Every muscle is designed to obtain the maximum result with the minimum effort. When we do the same exercise over and over, our body learns how to perform it using the minimum energy possible. As a result, we experience a peak in muscle development. This is why is a good thing to change often the exercises you do. To confuse your body, so it has to break the pattern, learn something new and grow.
It works the same way for our brain. Sometimes we need to create chaos and unpredictability to force our mind to be creative, to find new connections and patterns. In short, to grow. When we don’t have references, when we cannot use what we know to find a way forward, we are forced to create new connections, explore new possibilities.
It is scary, I know.
But once our creativity is released, the reward is incredible.
Last week I was in Rome and, no matter how many time I’ve already visited, I’m always in awe before the majesty of the buildings, temples, fountains, squares, churches, palaces. Everything in Rome is monumental.
I was reminded of this article I read about the positive effect of experiencing awe in our life.
Being before a temple that is more than 2000 years old, forced me to redefine my perspective on time. It the same feeling I had when I was driving in Patagonia. That vastity redefined my perspective on space. Art is another source of awe, a glimpse into the vastity of human beauty and creativity.
According to Amie Gordon, PhD, Principal Research Scientist in the Emotion, Health, and Psychophysiology Lab at the University of California-San Francisco, awe is about novelty and vastness. Something that doesn’t fit with what we already know and forces us to change our perspective.
It would be easy to think that the only sources of awe are external experiences.
But look at children, they live in a state of awe. Because they know less they create the experience of newness and vastity our of everything.
We should learn from them the art of being inspired.