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“.

One Apple A Day #506 – be more to do more

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.

One Apple A Day #496 – create your way

“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.

One Apple A Day #420 – Where do you put your attention?

“Energy flows where attention goes”.

As we know, our attention is incredibly limited.

“A neuroscientist named Manfred Zimmermann estimates that our capacity for perceiving information is about 11 million bits per second. […] He also estimates that your conscious attention has a capacity of about 40 bits per second. […] That’s a tiny, tiny fraction of what you can perceive: 40 bits out of a potential 11 million. That’s 10,999,960 bits of information that you sense but don’t notice, every second” from Liminal Thinking.

The choice of where you put your attention is crucial. It will define what image of reality you will create and on which you will act. Yet, how often is the choice yours?

There is a war going on for your limited attention. Every brand and every company are battling to be at the centre of that tiny fraction of world that you can perceive. This is why it is more important than ever that you learn to deliberately control where you want to put your attention.

I do it through my morning rituals. Before the world knocks at my door, I spend some time to anchor my day and choose where my attention will be. I’ll do it through meditation and journaling.

You may find different ways, each one is unique, but it’s important to take the time to choose where to put our attention.

Self-awareness is my best productivity tool

I grew up in the North-East of Italy, one of the most productive areas of the country. When I was a student, I remember that the adults around me were all working a lot and hard. My father worked 10 hours a day, five days a week, plus Saturday morning. Everyone used to measure the health of a factory with the number of extra hours that the workers were able to do in a week. Then the crisis hit Italy. I remember people talking about the companies having issues saying “it’s bad, they had to stop working on Saturday”.

That working culture is an example of the “Religion of Hustle” that Mark Manson excellently describes in this post. I found the same working culture when I started working in the digital industry. Both startups and agencies were, and still are, celebrating the hustle. Yes, everyone talks about work/life balance, but then the employees that sacrifice the weekend for a project are praised. It’s the competition baby. Do you want results? You need to work hard. More and better than your competitors. And it may work, sometimes. But most of the time, it generates stress, exhausted people that have to take a sabbatical year to recover, and average results.

The problem is that work is not a linear function; productivity does not increase linearly adding more work. As Manson explains, most of the works produce diminishing or even negative returns over time. If you push hard, for a long time, you will reach a point when your brain tires out. After that the incremental gain is marginal, you will start making bad choices that can even have adverse effects on the final results.

In his book “The 4-Hour Body”, Timothy Ferris explains the concept of the Minimum Effective Dose. The MED is the smallest dose of something that will produce the desired outcome. Anything beyond the MED is wasteful. The MED to boil water is 100º at standard air pressure. Higher temperatures will not make it more boiled. They will just consume more resources.
For you to be productive, it’s important to know which is the desired outcome of your work and what is your MED of work needed to produce it. As every productivity expert says; you need to work better, not more.

And you are lucky. There are plenty of books, website, classes and tools that propose strategies to increase your productivity. They teach you how to work better rather than more. So, it is easy. You just have to pick a strategy, learn it, apply it, and you will get the results.
My experience is that it’s not so simple. I’ve seen teams go through a painful process to adopt new tools and strategies without any measurable results. As part of my growing journey, I tried a few tools myself. Some worked, others not at all.
Why is that? All these strategies are proven to work. They have plenty of testimonials from people and companies that have achieved remarkable results. If it works for them, it should work for me. Or not?

“Because see, this may surprise you, but not all work is created equal.” — Mark Manson

Not all work is created equal. And I would add, not all workers are created equals.
Picking a strategy or a tool is not enough to get the results you want. Every work has its specifics. What is effective to manage the creation of furniture may not work if you’re trying to write a book. Even when jobs are similar, the workers are most likely different. Circumstances can be comparable, but we are all unique. You have only one way to choose the right tools and strategies; to know yourself better.

Before anything else, the first tool you need is self-awareness. You must understand your limits, your weaknesses and your strengths. You must find the leverages to increase your productivity. Once you increase your self-awareness, you will be able to make the right choices to improve your productivity.

“Awareness precedes choice and choice precedes results.” — Robin Sharma.

Inspired by the words of my friend Sujith of Being At Full Potential, I understood that I was looking at productivity from the wrong angle. I was focusing on the things I was doing while forgetting to nurture who I am. My uniqueness.

When the BEING comes alive, the DOING thrives.

In the last months, I put aside most of the tools and the strategies I used to manage my time and productivity, and I turned into listening mode. I pay more attention to my emotions, when I’m productive and when I’m not. Every morning I download my thoughts on a journal. Writing is my way of listening to myself. I keep a “good time activity log” — inspired by Designing your life — to track the moments of the day in which I’m engaged. And the more I know myself, the more I can tap into my strengths, and I can use my energy and time efficiently.

Self-awareness is my best productivity tool. What about yours?

 

Photo by Calum MacAulay on Unsplash

Article originally published on medium on May 29, 2017