One Apple A Day #689 – find your pace

Last days have offered me a huge opportunity to revaluate my relationship with productivity. 

As I already wrote, it’s an uncomfortable subject for me. 

I would never describe myself as a productive person, that’s for sure. Yet, it’s a subject that fascinated me, maybe precisely because it’s not a natural thing for me.

This morning, while I was doing a simple but effective practice to synch movements and breathing, a memory came back; my first motorbike riding course on track. 

The program was straightforward. Six students, one instructor, a 20 minutes session on the track followed by 40 minutes offtrack to analyse what we did, repeated for five times.

During the session on the track, one of us was leading the group for two laps with the instructor just behind observing. Then all the others. After two laps, the one in front went to the back of the group. 

When it was my time to lead the group, I wanted to impress the instructor straight away. So, I gave my best; full-throttle on the straight, braking hard before each turn and then accelerating as much as I could. 

At the end of my two laps, I was exhausted but very proud of myself. When we stop for the debrief, I was drench in sweat but happy with my performance. The instructor feedback was like a punch to the guts. I was one of the slowest. Sure, I was fast on the straight, but that was useless, considering that there was one short straight but plenty of turns.

On the next session, the instructor forced me to do my two laps, always keeping the same gear. That meant that I couldn’t accelerate much and I couldn’t go too fast on the straight. But, surprise, during the debrief, I discovered that my lap time was way better.

Once my obsession with speed was out of the picture, I found my rhythm and with it the performance. 

This story reminds me of two valuable lessons, that too often I forget.

One is to look at performance, and productivity, more holistically. If we focus only on one aspect, we may illude ourselves that we’re going faster while we are just wasting energy.

The second lesson is that when we find our rhythm, we use better our resources and we can keep performing high for longer. 

One Apple A Day #693 – Rhythm

Three weeks ago, my partner moved abroad for a project. She’s going to be away for a while, so we’re both dealing with the challenges that this experience brought in our lives.

Obviously, the biggest one is the distance, but there’s another one I wasn’t expecting; the loss of rhythm.

We’ve been apart before, but it was always for shorter periods. This time we’re talking months. And something happened in my head since the very first week.
My flow and productivity got disrupted like never before. Since day one, I’ve been struggling to keep my routines and habits.
It took me a while to realize what was happening.

I’ve lost my rhythm.

Over the years, we built our own unique rhythm. A rhythm on which I can improvise, create and follow the flow without getting lost. A rhythm that keeps me grounded.

I feel like I’m without my metronome.

And it is clearly affecting my energy and my flow.
Everyone is unique, but I’ve learned how important it is for me to have a basic rhythm in my life, on top of which I can improvise and move freely.

So, now my new challenge is to find a new way to keep the beat until she’s back.
Any suggestions?

One Apple A Day #689 – the halo effect

I don’t know you, but I’m terrible at managing more things at the same time. There are plenty of articles, books and videos explaining why multitasking is not a good idea. Many research and studies have proved that our brain is not wired for multitasking and that switching context is a costly task for our cognitive mind. 

That’s why many productivity experts suggest creating bubbles of focus, in which your attention goes to a single task while you keep all distraction outside. There are many strategies to create a bubble of concentration. Some put all the devices in “flight mode”, others go into a virtual cave. Some close themselves in minimalist rooms, and others just put their headphones on to cut the world out.

Personally, I use a combination of all of those. Unfortunately, creating a bubble of focus is not enough for me. It is as if anything I put my attention on long enough, leaves a halo in my mind. So, when I try to switch to something else, no matter how tight and protected my bubble of focus is, thoughts from previous tasks keep lingering in my mind.

This “halo” creates a big challenge for me. Silencing inner distractions is a lot more complicated than protecting my focus from the external ones. As a result, it takes me ages to find my rhythm when I start a new activity.

This “halo effect” or “tail effect” or whatever we want to call it, is a recent discovery. Looking back at my most productive days, I can see two strategies worth trying.

  1. Don’t fight it. If I can’t remove a thought from my mind, then fighting against it, won’t make it disappear. I have to deal with it. Understand what I need to do to get it out of my system, and do it. If something is not fully finished, I can’t move to something else, no matter how tight my bubbles are.
  2. Group similar things. Jumping between different types of activities is the most costly type of switch. I can’t easily alternate meetings and writing time in the same morning. So, I need to set big chunks of time aside for similar activities.

I’ll let you know if it works.

P.S. I just discovered that the “Halo effect” is a cognitive bias and has nothing to do with what I wrote in this post. Ouch.

One Apple A Day #686 – am I productive?

“Productivity describes various measures of the efficiency of production. Often, a productivity measure is expressed as the ratio of an aggregate output to a single input or an aggregate input used in a production process, i.e. output per unit of input, typically over a specific period of time.” from Wikipedia.

I confess; I’ve always struggled with productivity. This word is the source of many bad days and a fair share of disappointment. There are days in which I get to the end of them, and I struggle to recollect where the time went. Those for sure are not productive days. Yet, often they are the source of some good ideas or learnings.

Days in which I do a lot of things but the one I wanted to do. So, I’m not sure if I should consider them productive days or not.

Days in which I don’t do much, but what I do feels so meaningful and rewarding.

So, every now and then, when I fill unproductive, I find myself asking questions such as “How do I measure my productivity? Do I need to measure it at all? What does it mean to be productive for me?

According to Wikipedia, production is a process of combining various material and immaterial inputs to make something which has value and contributes to the utility of individuals.

So, my understanding is that production is about impact. Still, how do I measure productivity?

Yes, this is how this post ends. Without any answers because I have none. Indeed, if I measure my productivity based on the number of answers I produce over a day, the figures are quite poor. 

Should I measure the questions I make?

If you have suggestions, or even better, some healthy questions, I’m all ears.

One Apple A Day #646 – Recovery

I woke up with a heavy head, a stiff neck and a sore shoulder. 

I know, not a great start of the day. I’ve tried to follow my usual morning routine, but after a few minutes of stretching, it was clear that training wasn’t an option this morning.

So, I went back to bed, and I tried to relax my body.

This little experience of mine made me think of the importance of resting and recovery. Something we usually look at as a waste of time or an obstacle to our productivity.

It is so easy to overdue.

In my case, the combination of a few factors makes things worst. 

I am self-employed, so I can work whenever I want. There are no external boundaries separating working time from the rest.

I do something I love. 

I can’t remember who said, “Do what you love, and you’ll never work another day in your life.”

Somehow it’s true, but that doesn’t mean you won’t need to rest and recover.

Athletes are very well aware of this. Recovery is not a pause from training, it is an integral part of it.

It should be the same in any work we do. We should have recovery phases by design.

I’m not sure it will avoid waking up with a stiff neck, but I’m definitely going to put more attention on planning my recovery moments. So they won’t feel a waste of time but productivity boosters.

One Apple A Day #626 – discipline

“How are we to become a warrior? There are certain characteristics of the warrior that are nearly the same around the world. The warrior has awareness. That’s very important. We are aware that we are at war, and the war in our minds requires discipline. Not the discipline of a soldier, but the discipline of a warrior. Not the discipline from the outside to tell us what to do and what not to do, but the discipline to be ourselves, no matter what.” — Don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements.

I’ve been struggling with presence and focus since I can remember. When I was a kid, my mind was continually wandering in a world of fantasy. I was under the sea with Captain Nemo, on a boat with Harvey Cheyne, fighting with the pirates or travelling to the centre of the Earth. Anywhere but not wherever my body was.

Even growing up, I kept being a wandered of the mind. My thoughts always floating between past, present and future. Reality and fantasy.

Over the here, this rambling mind of mine has become an invaluable tool. It helped me do some of the things I love the most; find connections, dig out ideas, change often, begin many different things.

The other side of the coin is the struggle to focus on one thing, to keep the ball rolling until the work is done, to finish what I start, to close what I open. 

Through different experiences, starting from school and going through various jobs, I’ve learned that discipline is how I can teach my wandering mind to focus. So, over the years, I’ve created different structures and systems to bring discipline in my life. However, almost every time, those systems and structures failed me. I thought it was part of the game. Then the other day, while I was going through my notes in search for something I need to write a post, I found some words I highlighted many months ago from The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz.

They’ve been working in my head for a few days.

The discipline of a warrior.

The discipline to be ourselves, no matter what.

It’s time for me to approach discipline in a whole new way.

One Apple A Day #605 – It is important

In the last weeks, I’ve been struggling with my priorities. Probably I said too many yes or maybe I just overestimate my energy.
Anyway, the result is that some days, I feel overwhelmed by the things I want and I have to do. Whatever choice I make on what to focus on, I feel guilty for the things I’m leaving behind and for the people I will disappoint.
In my mind, I know that the only way out is to put things on a list, define the priorities and tackle one task or goal after the other.
And that’s what I found overwhelming; defining my priorities.
The easiest framework I know to prioritize things is Eisenhower’s matrix, later developed by Stephen Covey in his 4 Quadrants.
It’s a simple matrix built on two axes; urgency and importance.
The aim is to put as many tasks as possible in the “important, not urgent” quadrant.
Urgency is based on time, so most of the time, it’s easier to evaluate things to do.
“Importance” is an entirely different game. How do you define what is important? It’s a quest that requires us to explore our values and our vision for the future. To me, something is important when it serves my vision, it is aligned with my values. The degree of importance depends on the impact a specific activity has on my vision and on my world.

You’re probably wondering why am I struggling if I have a framework and I know how to define the priority of the things I want to do?

Because to know what to do is not the same as doing what we know.
Between knowing and doing, there are our emotions and our beliefs influencing our actions.

But I have a secret weapon; my morning practice. Including these daily posts. Just writing about my struggle, I gained more clarity about it. I don’t have a solution yet, but I feel less overwhelmed and ready to review my priorities.
No doubts that my morning practice scores very high in importance.

The Monthly Edition: August 2019

It’s the holiday season! At least in Italy. This is typically the month when nothing happens, and everyone is in vacation mode (often even when they are working).

Anyway, whatever your situation right now you’re probably worried because you haven’t received my monthly newsletter.

At least, this is what I’m telling to my ego. 🙂

Reality is that your inbox is already full of stuff, so you’re just realising now that this month I’m late.

Again.

Even more than the previous months.

It looks like I can’t keep up with my own commitment.
If I squeeze my brain for a few minutes, I’m pretty sure I’ll come out with some excellent excuses for this delay.
But you know what.

Screw the excuses.

“Victims make excuses. Leaders deliver results.” — Robin Sharma

I have no plans of being a victim.
I want to deliver results.

And that requires me to take responsibility. With “taking responsibility” I mean to own my failures, so I can learn from them. To do that I need to have an honest and frank conversation with myself, asking uncomfortable questions and staying away from the easy answers.

So, right now I’m asking myself; “what can I learn from this failure in keeping the deadline for my newsletter?”.

Yep, all of a sudden this newsletter is about the answers I found in my self-inquiry process. I know each one of us is unique, so what came out of my process will be unique to me. But who knows, you may find some ideas or insights that will be beneficial to your own processes.

Lesson #01: Clarity of meaning

“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” — Nietzsche

The first thing I’ve investigated in my self-inquiry is the “why”.
When we investigate the motif behind something we want to do, we may be tempted to use a “why” question. Like “why do I want to do this?”

But even when I’m talking with myself, this question tastes judgemental. So, I decided to go for a different one.

“What are the things that make this newsletter so important to me?”

And this is the list that came out:

  • I love writing, and this is another opportunity to write
  • This newsletter is more personal than the other stuff that I publish, so it sparks a different type of reflections
  • It creates opportunities to start conversations with others
  • It helps me slow down and assess my own journey, something I often overlooked because I’m too busy doing stuff.
  • It’s an opportunity to improve my discipline (like having a book to suggest every month).

No lack of motivations then. The solution ought to be found somewhere else. Even if, it’s good to reconnect with the intentions that started this small project of mine.

Lesson #02: Plan ahead

“A man who does not plan long ahead will find trouble right at his door.” — Confucius

I realised I had to send the newsletter only on the 1st of August. That means I was already late for it. That’s not a good start. On top of that, my schedule for the first week of august was already defined. So I couldn’t find the time that I needed to write this newsletter. I am a slow writer, so I need at least four hours to get in the flow, find the inspiration, do the actual writing, review and polish and then send it. If I want to be on-time, I need to set aside the time for this task way ahead.

Thanks to these two learning, I was able to design some actions.

Actions!

“There can be no learning without action, and no action without learning.”  — Reg Revans

  1. I locked the time in my calendar for the next five newsletters, until December.
  2. I defined the list of books to read and comment for the next five months
  3. I’ve decided to publish these newsletters also on my website as articles to create even more opportunities for conversations (that would be the page you’re reading now. If you want to receive it also on your inbox, just subscribe to my newsletter using the form on the right of this page).
  4. I’ve decided to share more updates on all the things I’m working on, so maybe new collaborations can emerge.

From my bookcase

This month’s suggestion is “Liminal Thinking: Create the Change You Want by Changing the Way You Think” by Dave Gray. This book had a profound impact on my vision on almost everything. It really opened my eyes on the power of the space in-between.

“In order to learn anything truly new, you must empty your cup, so your existing knowledge, theories, assumptions, and preconceptions don’t get in the way.”

 

So, in a few weeks, I’ll have a new monthly edition with more updates and a new reading suggestion. If you want to be sure you won’t miss this article next month (or if you want to check if my actions deliver the expected results), just subscribe to my newsletter.

For now, this is the end of this summer (and first) edition of this post.

Thank you for your patience and for giving me this opportunity to reflect and improve.

And if you want to share with me how you deal with your own failures, comment below. I’d be happy to have a conversation with you and learn!

One Apple A Day #538 – take care of your energy

This morning I woke up tired and sleepy.
It is like when you forget to plug the charger of your phone before going to sleep, and you wake up with less than 15% of power in your battery.
With such a low level of energy, I’m struggling to keep the focus. Anytime I close my eyes, my mind goes adrift, and I have to make an effort to bring it back here and now.
However unpleasant, this condition is a great reminder of the importance of managing my energy.
There are plenty of books, strategies and tools to improve the way we manage time. But what about our energy? If we have the time to do something, but we’re out of energy, we won’t make anything remarkable.
Having the energy we need when we need it, it’s vital to do what we want and to enjoy doing it. When I talk about “energy” I mean physical energy. We have only one battery that serves our body, our mind and our heart. And our mind is voracious; it consumes circa 25% of our energy despite being only 4% of our mass.
Like with any resource, we must learn how to recharge our energy and how to use it wisely.
But my fifteen-minute slot to write this is gone. Being low in energy, I couldn’t write much. So, I close this post with a question: how do you take care of your energy?

One Apple A Day #518 – step by step

Sometimes I catch myself stuck in the “outcome” mindset.
The typical sign is the feeling that I’m pushing hard, but I’m going nowhere.
It is like trying to walk while keeping the gaze locked on the destination. As a result, I’m not paying attention to what’s around me and where I put my feet. I begin stumbling even on small obstacles, and I lose the joy of walking. It’s all about getting there.
Ironically, I’m not getting where I want.
It looks like my destination moves with me.
In those moments, frustration kicks in.
In the past, I’ve quit some projects due to this attitude.

Over the years I’ve learned that when I catch myself in that place, I have to shift my focus. I must redirect my gaze from the final outcome to my next step. Once the direction is set, I focus only on the next thing to do.
Even better. I design a new habit. Something I can do every day knowing that if I am consistent, it will take where I want to go.

Lately, I’ve been feeling that sense of frustration with some of the projects I’m working on. Today’s card reminded me that I need to stop thinking about the outcome and focus on “how do I show up every day“.