Deep Work: Methodologies I tried and the results

In my previous posts on what I learned from Cal Newport’s, Deep Work, I laid out what it is and how to get more of it.

I tried to implement some of Cal’s advice and this is where I landed.

What I tried

Track deep work

What Cal Suggested

Cal suggested that you keep track of your deep work time, keep a running tally, and reward yourself for reaching certain goals. Also, he says to note when you meet a milestone because of your deep work.

What I did

To track my deep work, I used my handy bullet journal. I tried a few different things, but landed on a system where I would write out what I planned to work on that day for my deep work and then put a checkmark next to that time if I felt I accomplished deep work and an x if I felt I didn’t. Here you can see what that looked like in my bullet journal:

Deep work tracking in bullet joural

See the red boxes where I planned (open circle) and tracked (x or check mark) deep work. I also tallied my work at the end of my day.

How it went

During this experiment, I couldn’t break my twitch to check email and instant messages completely and I actually felt more distracted with all the tracking (yet another thing to interact with during my day). But, when I tried to stick to the plan, I did give into my twitch much less, so that’s something.

Schedule Internet time

What Cal suggested

Cal suggested that you schedule your Internet time and stick to it. If you have to deviate from the schedule, you could do so after waiting out 5 minutes, but then you were to reschedule your Internet time and stick to it as best as you could.

What I did

I tried scheduling my time to use the Internet with my knowledge worker job and it wasn’t easy.

I kept a post it next to my mouse for when I could use the Internet again and did my best to stick with it.

How it went

I stuck to my schedule and rescheduled away, but I didn’t like it. I felt like I spent more time rearranging my schedule than doing work. Also, the added distraction of checking another thing (my schedule), made me feel less productive, so I didn’t keep this up for long.

Plus, I don’t know how many times I would catch myself opening another browser window to check something for my work and then remember that I wasn’t supposed to use the Internet yet, get flustered, and quickly close the window to wait it out. I would procrastinate while I waited because I didn’t want to reschedule things and wasting time was easier.

I felt like I was constantly failing, so I gave it up after a couple days.

Quit social media

What Cal suggested

Cal said to ban any social media you couldn’t come up with a good reason to keep for 30 days. No big announcements, just stop using it. If after the 30 days, you felt you didn’t need it, you should let it go. But if you felt you really needed it, then you should keep it, and schedule it just like your Internet time.

What I did

I tried the 30 day ban on Facebook and I didn’t really miss it as much as I thought I would.

Now, before I pretend I’m all noble and took Cal’s advice to quit it if I found I didn’t need it, I will tell you that is NOT what happened.

After the 30 day ban, I still got the cold sweats at the thought of quitting Facebook. So instead, I settled on depending on myself to moderate my time on Facebook (because that worked so well in my past <eye roll>).

But then I got pissed off at Facebook. Yes, I’m one of those people. I wan’t shocked at the Cambridge Analytica BS, but all the different ways that kept coming out (and keep coming out) about how Facebook sold my information to other companies, without my knowledge, really started to creep me out and piss me off.

And, when I get pissed, I tend to flip a switch and rebel. Lo and behold…

How it went

I quit giving Facebook information about myself and a few other social media platforms that weren’t really doing much for my quality of life. But, I keep pinning on Pinterest. Why? Because where else am I going to collect those adorable DIYs I’m never going to do anything with? Duh.

Do I miss it? Hell no.

Honestly, as a whole, I don’t. But, I DO miss Facebook events because scheduling a party with Evite just is NOT the same, no matter how hard they try. Also, I don’t get invited to things via Facebook anymore, so I usually find out about them afterwards or right before they happen, if at all. That kind of sucks, but the tradeoff is worth it for me.

Which leaves the question: Has my productivity picked up because of this new free time?

Ahhh, you know, I’m not quite sure.

I find myself staring out the window more. I am reading more, but I’m clearly not writing more, as you may have witnessed. And, I’m working out more, but I’m also catching up on my shows…so, I wouldn’t say I’ve swapped scrolling time with deep work.

But, I am calmer and less obsessed with my phone. I’m calling it a win.

Schedule every minute

What Cal suggested

Cal said to keep shallow work to a minimum, you should schedule every minute of your day. It allows you to see your priorities and know where your time goes.

What I did

I tried this for my work hours. I used Google calendar to schedule my minutes at the suggestion of one of my good friends.

I only schedule a day or two in advance and when I create those task “meetings”, I make sure to make the event so that I appear as “available”. That way, others can schedule time with me during my time blocks.

In an ideal world, I would probably block the time from others, too, and protect it, but I ain’t the boss and I need to make sure I’m available to meet with people or it’ll likely come up in a performance review.

How it went

For work, it worked like a charm. I stayed on task and got shit done. When my schedule changed, I just dragged and dropped events to other time slots. Bam! So organized! I could look at my calendar and keep calm knowing that I would get to that task later this afternoon. It was a big relief for me and helped me feel less overwhelmed.

As for my personal time, I found myself longing for the ease of scheduling my non-work time like I do with work: drag and drop on Gcal, so I tried that for a bit. But, I soon discovered that my days are pretty much the same during the week and only differ on the weekends. Scheduling all these recurring time blocks was kind of ridiculous for my personal life. So I stopped.

Instead I focus on sticking to my general time blocks that I know encompass my day and if I find the urge to write instead of clean during my cleaning time block, I do that instead and don’t beat myself up about not sticking to the schedule.

What stuck

I have quit using social media so heavily and I am likely to schedule every minute for work hours, especially when I feel overwhelmed and don’t know if I’ll be able to get it all done in time.

But overall, I haven’t really gotten more deep work in my life. Yet. I don’t think Cal would be impressed with my application of his book, but I did get a couple lasting changes from it and that’s all I need for now.

How about you?

Did you try any of the suggestions that came out of Deep Work? What were your experiments? How did they turn out? What did you learn? Let me know in the comments.

What’s Next?

Even though I haven’t been writing, I have been keeping up with my reading, and have a couple books on deck to run through what I learned with you:

I’ve read some duds that I won’t mention, but I’ve also read some really good books that are worth the time, but I didn’t take notes on like:

  • Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail by Cheryl Strayed 
    I know, I should have read this book a few years ago when everybody else did, but I just got to it now. It’s worth a read if you’ve ever struggled with a mid-life crisis, but it may make you want to attempt something similar. Heads up. It’s insightful and entertaining and you’ll end up loving Cheryl in the end. 
  • Bright Shiny Morning by James Frey
    This one came from Ryan Holiday’s newsletter he sends out that lists his favorite books he’s read that month. If you’re not a member of that newsletter, I highly recommend it. I listened to this audiobook and loved the reader/narrator. It’s a great set of characters and compelling stories about them.
  • Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich
    I can’t remember where this suggestion came from, I think Ryan Holiday again, but in any case, it’s worth a read if you just don’t understand why folks can’t just make it on minimum wage. Disclaimer – the minimum wage has gone up since this book was written, but the points are still pungently made and are still relevant.
  • Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
    I believe this was another Ryan Holiday pick. It’s exactly as the title suggests and is the most objective examination of humans that I’ve ever heard. It was amazing, insightful, and terrifying. If you want to know why we are the way we are, why we use money, track time, and eat processed food, give this book a try.

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Deep Work: Why you need it and how to get more of it (Part III)

Disclaimer: If you buy this book using this linked image, I get a small kickback. 

So far we’ve talked about what deep work is and rule #1 on how to get more of it. If you’re not familiar with deep work, why you need it, and what rule #1 is to get more deep work, you’ll want to read those posts first and then come back to this post.

With this post, I will wrap up how you can get more deep work in your life.

So, without further ado…

Rule #2: Embrace boredom

Our new mantra is: Be bored to concentrate better.

To go along with this idea, here’s a little quote from Clifford Nass, a Stanford Communications prof:

People who multitask all the time can’t filter out irrelevancy. They can’t manage a working memory. They’re chronically distracted. They initiate much larger parts of their brain that are irrelevant to the task at hand…they’re pretty much mental wrecks. – Clifford Nass

What does multitasking have to do with being bored? Well, if you fill every moment of boredom with your smart phone and “multitask”, then you have likely rewired your brain to be a “mental wreck”. Even if you practice deep work in your day-to-day, if you still whip out your phone any time you’re bored, you’re reinforcing your brain to act like a mental wreck.

So, knock it off. Be bored instead.

Here are some exercises to practice that concentration muscle.

Take breaks from focus

Instead of taking breaks from distraction, take breaks from focus. Schedule a break from concentration to give into distraction. To do this, try scheduling your Internet time:

  1. Schedule your phone and Internet time in advance.
  2. Keep a notepad by your computer at work and note the next time you’ll use the Internet.
  3. Avoid Internet all together outside of that scheduled time.

If you have an office job that requires you to be connected all the time to email and chat, and you need to check in every 15 minutes. That’s fine. Schedule it. Keep track of it. And, don’t deviate from the plan. You’re still training your brain to concentrate and that’s what matters.

Keep your Internet-free times truly free of the Internet. If you’re working on a task that requires more Internet time, wait if you can. Do another offline activity until your next Internet window comes along.

If that won’t work and you have to do the task NOW, then reschedule your Internet time so that your block begins sooner, but you have to have at least a 5 minute gap until you can go online again. Otherwise, you’re reinforcing that bad behavior you’re trying to break.

This scheduling of Internet time is not only for when you’re at work. Do it when you’re at home, too.

Also, you can schedule large blocks of Internet time, so don’t feel that you can’t binge on Netflix anymore. You can. But you have to schedule it and you have to stick to the schedule.

Work like Teddy Roosevelt

Teddy Roosevelt would use concentrated bursts of studying to reduce the overall amount of time it took. Do what Newport calls the “Roosevelt Dash”:

  1. Estimate how long it will take you to do a high-priority, deep work task under normal conditions.
  2. Reduce the amount of time you’re allowed to get the work done dramatically.
  3. Announce the revised deadline publically or set a timer you can’t watch and get to work.

Since this requires a lot of concentration and you are likely new to deep work, only do this once week at first. After you get used to it, increase the frequency.

Meditate productively

When you’re doing a mindless physical task like walking, driving, or showering, use it to do practice deep work.

  1. Concentrate on a well-defined problem and review the relevant variables to solve the problem.
  2. Your mind will wander. Bring it back to the problem at hand.
  3. When your brain begins to “loop” (repeats what you already know) say to yourself, “I seem to be in a loop” and redirect your concentration back to the problem.
  4. When you solve the problem, review the answer and start on the next problem.

Newport says to try this 2-3 times a week to strengthen your concentration muscles.

Expect to see results from this activity after about 12 times (3 weeks) of doing this.

Memorize a deck of cards

Doing this task requires attentional control. It is a memory training task, but that leads to an improvement in your ability to concentrate. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Cement an image of you walking through 5 rooms in your home.
  2. Fix in your mind a collection of 10 things in each room. The larger the better because they’re easier to remember.
  3. Establish the order you look at each of these items in the room.
  4. Add 2 more items in another room or a place like your backyard to get to 52.
  5. Practice mentally walking through each of the rooms and looking at the 10 items in each room in their correct order.

Then, with a deck of cards:

  1. Associate a memorable person or thing with each of the 52 cards. For example, imagine Jim Carrey for the Ace of spades because he played the character Ace Ventura.
  2. Practice these associations until you can randomly pull a card from the deck and immediately recall the associated person or thing.

Combine the two:

  1. Begin your walkthrough of your house. For each item, look at the next card in the shuffled deck and imagine the corresponding memorable person or thing doing something memorable near that item.
  2. Once you finish a room, walk through it in your mind a few times in a row to lock in the imagery.
  3. Go carefully through the rooms, associating the proper mental images with objects in the proper order.

Voila! You memorized a deck of cards and your concentration is increasing by the second!

Rule #3: Quit social media

Eek! Do what now?!

Don’t worry, you can do a trial run of this. You don’t have to quit until you’re ready. And, if you’re never ready, that’s ok, too. Here’s the spiel…

We all know that these services are made to be addictive and are meant to take as much as your focus as possible. They’re made so that you keep scrolling.

We also know that we often spend more time than we had intended on them. For example, it’s a common scenario that I open my phone to add an item to my grocery list, get distracted by the red badge notification that we know and love, and my list item is completely forgotten while I “check Facebook real quick”. 15 minutes later, there’s no item on my grocery list, but I’ve learned that so-and-so had a nice looking lunch and smiled at a pic of a cute puppy. …WTF am I doing?

Deep work is a hell of a lot harder with social media. Hell, focus of any kind is a lot harder with social media. So get real clear on what you get from social media. What benefits do you get from social media? Why do you use it? What might you miss out on if you don’t use it?

The craftsman approach to tool selection

Look at the core factors that determine your success and happiness. Use a tool only if its positive impacts on those factors substantially outweigh its negative impacts.

Apply the law of the vital few

  1. Define your high-level goals in your work and in personal life.
  2. List the 2-3 most important activities you need to reach those goals. Be specific enough that you can clearly picture doing them, but general enough to not be tied to a one-time outcome.
  3. Look at your social media tools. Ask if each tool has a substantially positive impact, negative impact, or little impact on the activities you listed for your goals.
  4. Only use the tool if it has substantial positive impacts that outweigh the negative.

Try this: 30 day ban

For 30 days, ban yourself from social media. All of them. Rules:

  1. Don’t deactivate your accounts.
  2. Don’t announce you’re leaving.
  3. Stop using them cold turkey.

When your 30 days are up, ask:

  1. Would my 30 days have been notably better if I had used them?
  2. Did people care I wasn’t using them?

If your answer is no to those questions, then quit the service permanently. If your answer is yes, then schedule that social media time and and stick to that schedule.

Don’t use the Internet to entertain yourself

I, for one, love the Buzzfeed articles that show me how to cheaply decorate my home. Do I ever do anything with that information? Nope. I fantasize about doing all these cute DIYs, but I never do them. Never write them down as goals. Never make action plans with them. Just fantasize about doing them.

There are many of these entertainment services that pose themselves as light “news” or helpful information, but with their snappy headlines, big promises, and easily consumable content, they are just another focus-sucking machine. Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, TMZ, Business Insider, Reddit, and I’ll add, Netflix…all time sucks. They are a crutch to eliminate boredom and they kill your ability to do deep work.

But how do I relax?

When I read this in Deep Work, it was a real eye-opener. I had realized it on some level, but it never fully registered until now…

Did you know that your brain can handle continuous hard activity? It doesn’t get tired like the rest of your body. It was made to think and analyze. Your brain still needs rest, and it gets it when you sleep, but other than that, your brain is like, “Let’s do this!”. All. The. Time.

The mental faculties are capable of continuous hard activity; they do not tire like an arm or leg. All they want is change – not rest, except in sleep. – Arnold Bennett

If you give your mind something meaningful to do throughout all your waking hours, you’ll end the day more fulfilled, and begin the next one more relaxed, than if you instead allow your mind to bathe for hours in semi-conscious and unstructured Web surfing. – Cal Newport

Experience what it means to live, and not just exist. – Cal Newport

Bottom line, our “Netflix and chill” need after a long hard day is really just a ruse. If we didn’t veg out on the interwebs, we may actually be more rested for tomorrow.

Say what?? I know, right? Doesn’t seem right at first, until you do it and begin to see the difference.

(Also, this doesn’t mean you have to give those things up, but you should plan them and schedule them and then stick to the schedule.)

Rule #4: Drain the shallows

This rule is all about minimizing and controlling your shallow work. You can’t eliminate it completely because not all of your work can be deep. And, shallow work is only problematic when it crowds out your deep work. So what to do with shallow work?

Schedule every minute of your day

We’re horrible at knowing where our time goes. We underestimate how much sleep we get and overestimate how much we think we work. So, bottom line is that you really don’t know where your time is spent until you track your time.

Track every minute:

  1. Divide the hours of your workday into blocks of at least 30 minutes per block.
  2. Assign activities to those blocks.
  3. Batch similar tasks to more generic task blocks. He suggests drawing a line from a generic task block to a list of individual tasks to be done during that block.
  4. Schedule every minute of your day.
  5. Use the schedule to guide you.

Tips:

  • As new, unplanned tasks crop up, reschedule your day.
  • Use “conditional” blocks to allow for tasks that you’re not sure how long they will last. Basically, mark the block for two tasks knowing that if you finish the first task early, you will work on the next task for that block. And, if you don’t finish early, you’ll keep working on that first task instead.

Quantify the depth of every activity

If you don’t know if a task you’re about to do is shallow work, ask yourself:

  • How long would it take (in months) for me to train a smart, recent graduate with no specialized training in my field to do this task?
    • If it’s many months, then it’s a deep work task.
    • If it’s not long at all, then you’re looking at shallow work.

And, as always, try to spend more time on deep work.

Ask your boss for a shallow work budget

If you ask your boss how much time they want you to spend on shallow work, you then also have permission to timebox yourself from doing more shallow work than allotted. This is also a good time to have a discussion with your boss about how responsive and connected you need to be to IM and email, if you haven’t already.

Cal notes that about 30-50% of your time is the typical budget for shallow work.

Finish your work by 5:30pm

This is a case of timeboxing, essentially. With the 5:30pm deadline, you not only get a better work-life balance, but you also have the push to finish your work in that timeframe. It’s kind of like a daily “Roosevelt Dash” motivator. It helps you turn down shallow work.

Shallow work seems harmless in isolation, but when you have less time to get your real work done, it really becomes clear how low-priority it is compared to your deep work.

Become hard to reach

Here are 3 tips from Cal to make yourself hard to reach:

Tip 1: Make people that send you email do more work.

Ask them to filter themselves before emailing you. “If you need XYZ, contact PQR.”

Set the expectation that you won’t respond unless <insert reason>.

Tip 2: Do more work when you send emails.

Ask yourself, “What project is represented by this email?” and, “What is the most efficient process (in terms of emails generated) for bringing this project to a successful conclusion?” before you write the email. It will help you put in more information than you may have originally, cutting down on the number of emails you end up sending overall.

Tip 3: Don’t respond if any of the following applies:

  • It’s ambiguous or makes it hard for you to generate a reasonable response.
  • It’s not a question or a proposal that interests you.
  • Nothing really good will happen if you respond and nothing really bad will happen if you don’t.

Develop the habit of letting small bad things happen. If you don’t, you’ll never find time for the life-changing big things. – Tim Ferriss

The End

That concludes everything that I learned from Deep Work. I hope my notes help you out in some way. If they have, let me know in the comments. It’ll keep my momentum going to know that somebody is getting something out of this weird propulsion I have to write all this stuff down in a blog.

Also, share it with your friends, if they will find it useful.

In my next post on Deep Work, I’ll show you how I’m implementing these practices in my own life and how I track it all in my bullet journal.

Thanks for sticking with me to the end. Now go do some deep work.

Deep Work: Why you need it and how to get more of it (Part II)

Last time we talked about the basics of deep work and why you need it. This time I’ll share how to get more deep work, for those tasks that you have that require you to have intense focus to master, in your life.

Disclaimer: If you buy this book using this linked image, I get a small kickback. 

To work more deeply, I’ll go over Cal Newport’s 4 rules in this post as well as my next:

  1. Work deeply
  2. Embrace boredom
  3. Quit social media
  4. Drain the shallows

Rule #1: Work Deeply

According to David Dewayne, if you were to create the perfect environment to work deeply, it would closely resemble the Eudaimonia machine. It’s essentially a chain of the following connected rooms where you would enter into room 1 and work your way to room 5. You would spend 90 minutes in room 5 and then exit back to room 1 for 2-3 cycles because that’s about all our brains can handle.

Rooms of the Eudaimonia machine:

  1. Gallery – where you see examples of the deep work you made in “the machine”.
  2. Salon – a room that creates a mood between intense curiosity and augmentation where you can sit and debate or brood.
  3. Library – houses a permanent record of all the work produced in the machine. It has all the resources you needed for the previous work.
  4. Office space – looks like a typical office with whiteboards, cubicles, and desks. This is where you would do your low-intensity work that is tied to your project.
  5. Deep work chamber – a 6’x10′ soundproof room that allows you total focus.

Don’t worry. You don’t need to create a Eudaimonia machine to get more deep work in your life.

Deep work and willpower

According to Ray Baumeister, people fight the following most common desires all day long:

  1. Eat
  2. Sleep
  3. Sex
  4. Taking a break from hard work
  5. Go on the Internet or watch TV

We can resist those desires about 50% of the time. Each time you resist one of those desires, you deplete your willpower a little more until it’s all gone.

One way to avoid using willpower all day long is to create habits of routines and rituals. So, if you want more deep work, just like most things that require effort, you need to make it a habit.

There are 4 ways you can schedule deep work into your life. The one you choose to follow depends heavily on the type of connectivity you need in your work and how you work.

For example, if you need to be present online and in your inbox all day to do your job, then you’ll need to use a different deep work philosophy than someone that can hide away for a day or so at a time and peek their head out every now and then to catch up on all the shallow work.

4 Philosophies of deep work scheduling:

  1. Monastic
  2. Bimodal
  3. Rhythmic
  4. Journalistic

The Monastic philosophy of deep work scheduling

How it works:

  • Get rid of and minimize as many shallow obligations as you can.
  • Block off days, weeks, or months where you only do deep work and you shut out all distractions.

Who it works best for:

  • Works best for those with a well-defined and highly valued professional goals.
  • The bulk of this person’s success comes from them doing this one thing really well.
  • This philosophy of deep work only works for a small group of people – those that can work on their goals and shut out the outside world to get their stuff done.
  • Works really well for professors.

The Bimodal philosophy of deep work scheduling

How it works:

  • You divide your time with clearly defined stretches with at least a full day at a time dedicated to deep work. Leave the rest of your time open to everything else.
  • During your deep work phases, you work as you would in the monastic philosophy: shut out all distractions and only deal with them when you are done with your deep work time.
  • Seek intense, uninterrupted concentration.

Who it works best for: 

  • If you’re working a day job, you would use this philosophy if you can block out your weekends for deep work or block out an entire week at a time for deep work.
  • Carl Jung used this method in his work as a Psychologist.

The Rhythmic philosophy of deep work scheduling

How it works:

  • This one follows Jerry Seinfeld’s work routine and his streak calendar.
  • Make deep work a habit. Do it everyday with an easy reminder to do the work.
  • Work for at least 90 minutes at a time.
  • May be necessary if the results of your deep work has no serious deadline.

Who it works best for: 

  • People with day jobs that can block off 90 minutes a day to do deep work.
  • This method works best for most people.

The Journalistic philosophy of deep work scheduling

How it works:

  • Any time you have free time, you switch to deep work.
  • Work to fit in deep work wherever you can in your schedule.

Who it works best for: 

  • Somebody that is not new to deep work and can turn deep work modes on and off like a switch, which is hard to pull off.
  • Requires confidence in your abilities. Knowing that what you’re doing is important and that you will succeed.
  • Journalists and writers can usually pull this off.

Do any of those sound like they will work for you? If so, get scheduling your deep work time! If not, try the rhythmic philosophy out and see how that works for you.

Ritualize

As with any habit, if you have it incorporated into a routine, or a daily ritual, you can eventually get to a point where you do it without even thinking about it. Take that, willpower!

Same goes for deep work. Build a ritual that you can do to get yourself ready for deep work.

What kind of ritual do you need? One that answers these questions:

  1. Where will you work and for how long? If at all possible, make this a spot that you ONLY use for deep work.
  2. How will you work once you start? For example, will you have no Internet use? Will you use a metric to measure the work you do like words-per-minute if you’re writing? Will you track the minutes/hours that you are in deep work?
  3. How will you support your deep work? For example, will you start with a fresh cup of coffee, some food, and meditation?

Make grand gestures

Sometimes when you need to make a change, you need to make it clear to yourself that this IS a big deal and you ARE going to do it. If you invest a lot of time or money into something, it becomes something that you really don’t want to drop the ball on.

 

Don’t work alone

Contrary to how it might sound, you CAN do deep work with others. Hello, whiteboard effect.

Ever been in a meeting where you’re trying to solve a problem and everybody is at the whiteboard with a marker in hand? That is deep work, but in a group setting. It can happen. But, the key is that you need an area to meet up and bounce ideas off each other and you need an area where you can escape and focus. Like a hub and spoke.

The pressure of needing to produce something for another person is a great motivator and can help you “short-circuit” your instinct to avoid the discomfort of depth, so get a deep-work buddy.

Execute like a business

Figure out a strategy to achieve a goal, but more importantly, HOW you will achieve it. Often we figure out the “what” that needs to happen, but we miss the “how”. To figure out the how, use the 4 disciplines of execution.

The 4 disciplines of execution (4DX)

Disclaimer: If you buy this book using this linked image, I get very small kickback.

Use these 4 disciplines that companies use to successfully implement high-level strategies:

  1. Focus on the wildly important.
    • The more you try to do, the less you accomplish.
    • Find a small number of ambitious goals to work on in deep work.
  2. Act on lead measures.
    • Lag measure is the thing that you’re ultimately trying to prove.
    • Lead measure is the new behavior you do to drive success on the lag measure. It’s the action you do that leads to the goal.
    • For example, if you’re trying to write a book (your lag measure), then your lead measure would be working on getting 1000 words down each day.
  3. Keep a compelling scoreboard.
    • Have a physical artifact where you can see your progress in deep work. Maybe it’s a list of the number of deep work hours you get each day, maybe it’s a calendar where you place a gold star each day you do deep work. Whatever it is, make it hard to miss.
  4. Create a cadence of accountability.
    • Do a weekly review your scoreboard. Commit to ways you’re going to improve your score for next week. Review what happened with the commitments from last week; did they help you get more deep work done?

Be lazy

You may be tempted to push as hard as you can and get more deep work hours out of the day, but instead, you should quit working at the end of the day. Working into the wee hours will not get you far in this case. Why?

Reason #1: Downtime aids insight

In 2006, Ap Dijksterhuis published an article in Science that proved that some decisions are better left to your unconscious mind.

Unconscious Thought Theory is the attempt to understand the different roles your conscious and unconscious mind have when making decisions.

It posits that if you need to make a decision that requires the application of strict rules, then your conscious brain is better equipped to handle it. Much like a computer, your conscious brain can follow the rules and reach a decision. However, for decisions that require lots of information with lots of vague and sometimes contradicting constraints, then your unconscious mind is better equipped to handle it.

Because it’s a badass.

Your unconscious mind has so much more bandwidth and can handle so much more data than your conscious brain. So let it. Shut down at the end of your workday and let your unconscious mind take over.

Reason #2: Downtime helps recharge the energy needed for deep work

Concentration requires directed attention and this attention is finite.

If you want to have more concentration, then you need to replenish your attention. Replenish your concentration reserves by chatting with a friend, listening to music while making dinner, go for a run, play with your kids…relax, have fun, and play.

Though you may be tempted to sneak in a little more deep work before bed, don’t do it. It will only reduce your effectiveness for the next day. You can still do deep work before bed, just not if you’ve already done 4 hours worth. Go to bed, fool!

Reason #3: The work that evening downtime replaces is usually not that important

If you practice deep work, as a novice, you can usually get in an hour a day. As you gain more experience, you can get up to 4 hours a day. Any more than that and you clearly have super-human focus abilities and should reach out to Cal and brag to him about how you’re bigger deep thinker than he is.

Bottom line: Your capacity for deep work in a day is limited. Any work you do after a long day of deep work ain’t gonna be your best because you’re all deep worked out, ya dig?

Shutdown ritual

To help you get into your downtime zone, have a shutdown ritual (Again, with the ritual!):

  1. Review your inbox and make sure there’s nothing urgent there.
  2. Get your remaining tasks whether they’re in your head or on a scrap of paper onto a master to-do list where you keep all your todos.
  3. Skim every task in that master list and look at the next few days on your calendar.
  4. Make a rough plan for tomorrow.
  5. Say a phrase to let your brain know you’re done for the day like “Shutdown complete”. It sounds dumb, but do it anyway. DO IT!

Why do you have to say a phrase? The Zeigarnik effect.

The Zeigarnik effect is the ability of incomplete tasks to dominate our attention. If you don’t make a plan for that task rolling around in your head, your brain is going to feel the need to keep track of it for you. So take care of it. Make a plan for those unfinished tasks and then tell your brain that you took care of it (by saying a dumb little phrase) so that you can free your unconscious mind to do some work for you.

Next time…

Well, we made it through the first rule to get more deep work in your life and it was a doozy! My hope is that I can wrap up rules 2-4 in my next post. After that, I’ll post how I’m implementing what I learned in this book, what’s working, what’s not, and if it’s worth the hoopla.

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Deep Work: Why you need it and how to get more of it (Part I)

Deep Work

I just wrapped up Deep Work by Cal Newport and was blown away with all of the takeaways that came out of it. I’m going to give you a rundown, but it’s going to take a couple posts because it’s a LOT of information.

Fair warning:

  • Throughout this post, any statements I make or references to studies I mention are all from Cal’s book. I didn’t add anything to it other than my commentary. I thought that would be less annoying than saying, “Cal says/argues etc.” 85 bajillion times in this post.
  • Also, I am now an Amazon Affiliate. That means that if you buy any of the books I’ve linked here in this post using my link, I get a small (very small) kickback.

Deep work: What is it?

Deep work is: Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.

It’s the moments when you’re in flow and the time flies by while you’re working. Apparently it’s also important if you want to create and be influential. Or, as he puts it:

“The ubiquity of deep work among influential individuals is important to emphasize because it stands in sharp contrast to the behavior of most modern knowledge workers. …[Most knowledge workers are] constantly sending and receiving email messages, like human network routers, with frequent breaks for quick hits of distraction. – Cal Newport

I’m a knowledge worker and that just stings. I get it. I know it’s likely true, but it still stings.

To back this up, he talks about a 2012 Mckinsey study that found that the average knowledge worker spends more than 60% of their work week using electronic forms of communication and searching the Internet. And, 30% of a worker’s time is spent reading and answering emails.

To any of you with an office job, these stats are probably not that big of a surprise. We live from our inboxes. But, sadly, it’s also not influential work.

Shallow work is: Non-cognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend not to create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate. 

Here’s the scary part:

Spend enough time in a state of frenetic shallowness and you permanently reduce your capacity to do deep work.” – Cal Newport

Permanently?! Holy hell.

Deep Work: Why it matters

“The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. The few that can pull this off will thrive.” – Cal Newport

There are 3 types of workers that will thrive in the current and future economy:

  1. High-skilled workers
  2. Superstars (ace workers)
  3. Owners/investors

In order to thrive, you need two abilities:

  1. The ability to master hard things.
  2. The ability to produce at an elite level, in terms of quality and speed.

And what do you know? Both of those require the ability to focus and do “deep work”.

 

Deep work is meaningful

Deep work is meaningful for the following reasons:

Neurological argument

Winifred Gallagher argues that we focus on what happens to us and that we allow our circumstances determine how we feel. This allows us to ignore how we spend our days. Or, in other words, we’re focused on large-scale outcomes and not what we do day in and day out.

“Who you are, what you think, feel, and do, what you love – is the sum of what you focus on.” – Winifred Gallagher

Gallagher argues that an unfocused mind will focus on what could be wrong in your life instead of what’s right, which will bring you down.

Barbara Fredrickson argues in a similar vein that what you choose to focus on exerts significant leverage on your attitude. If you focus on the the positive, then you’ll have a more positive outcome even after negative events.

To go along with Gallagher’s and Fredrickson’s research, Newport argues that deep work gives you a perspective of gravity and importance in your work, making your worldview of gravity and importance. And he says that a shallow workday is likely to be draining and upsetting, even if that shallow stuff seemed fun because you didn’t focus on deep work and your focus on the shallow made your day shallow.

Psychological argument

A study done by Csikszentmihalyi and Larson backs up this idea that shallow work is a source of unhappiness.

Csikszentmihalyi and Larson’s study required their subjects to carry a beeper around with them and when the beeper would randomly go off, they would record what they were doing in that moment. What they found was that the best moments are “when your mind is stretched in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile”. (Deep work).

Or as my simple brain puts it: Deep work = happy me. Shallow work = sad me.

Happier at work than at rest?

Cal argues, it’s actually much easier to be happier while you’re at work because you have built in goals, feedback rules, and challenges. Whereas, freetime is unstructured and requires greater effort to be enjoyable.

The hell? So my “Netflix and chill” nights are NOT a form of good self-care and recovery like I thought they were. In fact, I would be happier working? I cannot believe this…

Philosophical argument

Post-Enlightenment era, we decided that we are responsible for defining what is meaningful, which can be quite arbitrary and make you think that there is no meaning. (Well, no wonder I have issues.)

He argues that we are wrong to think that if we “follow our passion” and find some rare, unicorn job, that we will finally be fulfilled and be satisfied, while any other job will be hell. The actual work you do is irrelevant and what matters more is that you use your skills and you find meaning in it.

And, how do you find meaning in that job you hate?

Deep work. He says that deep work is the key to get meaning from your job and that deep work will allow you to grow your skills.

Intense focus means higher quality work

Intense focus is required to learn hard things quickly, which is what Cal argues is paramount to being successful in this economy. So intense focus is what you should practice if you want to create high quality work.

He argues that:

High quality work = (Time spent) x (Intensity of focus)

(I mean, that makes sense, but it also seems like a gratuitous equation to make it seem more scientific to me. No?)

Attention residue reduces your focus

Sophie Leroy from the University of MN (go, Gophers!) studied the impact of what she called “attention residue”. She found that when you switch from task A to task B, your attention isn’t fully on task B. Instead, a bit of your attention (a “residue”) remains on task A, especially if task A wasn’t finished, and was of low intensity without a deadline (a.k.a., shallow work).

Those “quick checks” we do to see if so-and-so has responded to our email or to see how many likes our Facebook post is getting are super detrimental because of, you guessed it, attention residue. To add insult to injury, when we’re doing that “quick check”, we often see other emails/posts that we can’t deal with at that moment, which causes more attention residue, which tanks our performance on the next task.

What to do? Try this instead:

  • Work on a single hard task for a long time without switching to reduce attention residue. Guess what you’ll need to do that? The ability to focus.

The modern office ruins almost every chance you have at deep work.

Even though you may not be aware of it when it’s happening, your brain notices and responds to distractions. All. Of. Them. (This little tidbit is sourced in Cal’s book as being from “The Secret Life of Office Buildings“).

If distractions are so detrimental, why are they allowed, even, dare I say, promoted, in the modern work environment? Because of:

  1. The Metric Black Hole
  2. The Principle of Least Resistance
  3. Busyness as a proxy for productivity
  4. The cult of the Internet and technology

The Metric Black Hole

The Metric Black Hole is the unmeasurable impact of distractions.

If you can’t measure it, you can’t see the impact of it = The Metric Black Hole.

For example: Think of your average day. How much time do you spend on emails? What’s the average length of time it takes you to write an email? Read an email? How long do you spend trying to regain focus throughout the day? How long do you get stuck talking to the company bullshitter? How many meetings do you sit through that you don’t get a damn thing out of? How much time do you spend going to the bathroom, getting a drink, or grabbing a snack?

Because it’s hard to measure how much time we actually spend being human routers and being distracted, it gets ignored. We turn a blind eye to it because it’s easier to do so, which leads us to our next item…

The Principle of Least Resistance

The argument of this principle is that basically we do what is easiest in the moment at work because we don’t get feedback on what it does to the bottom line, thanks to the Metric Black Hole.

Examples:

  • Why save up all your questions in one email for an individual when you can pepper that person all day with your questions, the instant you have them, via chat systems?
  • Recurring meetings…those are a lot easier to set and forget than to set up a meeting each time you need one. (Also, it’s nice to have that meeting on the calendar “to keep the project moving forward”).

How much time do you spend answering instant messages during the day or random questions from coworkers or attending a recurring meetings for status updates that really don’t impact you? I don’t know and I’m guessing you don’t either.

–>The principle of least resistance is protected by the Metric Black Hole.

How nice.

Busyness as a proxy for productivity

Since we can’t really show what it means to be productive and valuable at work or unproductive for that matter (thanks, Metrics Black Hole), we fall back on other indicators that are easier to see.

We show our value by doing lots of stuff in a highly visible manner. Hello, meetings, email, IM, and office brainstorming sessions!

When you are using busyness as a proxy, these highly visible behaviors are crucial for convincing yourself and others that you are doing your job.

Stings, doesn’t it?

We are uber-connected at work, work from our inboxes, and revel in meetings because then we can show what we did all day even though all that hustle and bustle probably didn’t produce a damn thing.

Well, shit.

And, if that wasn’t enough to promote this madness of distraction, this uber-connectivity and all the distractions that occur at work (don’t get me started on open office systems), allow us to avoid the discomfort that comes with concentration and planning. Hello, procrastination!

But the real bad news is that it also means that we rob ourselves of long-term satisfaction and from producing anything of real value. Dammit.

The cult of the Internet and technology

This is our last reason of why the modern workplace promotes so much distraction, when they really want us to make something of value, and it goes a little something like this…

Anything tied to technology and the Internet is seen as a good thing in our society and something that we should embrace.

Oh, come on. You know it’s true!

Have you ever had to explain why you haven’t been on a social media platform lately? Why is that? We EXPECT you to be active on the interwebs. What gives? It’s not like this is The Circle!

Or is it?

If you don’t have a Facebook account, you’re not “normal”. Even though social media has been shown to not be so great for our happiness, you’re still expected to be on it, and if you’re not, you better have an explanation as to why.

Evgeny Morozov, the author of To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism, argues that when we have a question, we turn to the Internet. It’s seen as a great source of information and wisdom. It’s much more than just routers and cables to us. Morozov argues that because of how we idolize the Internet, we see anything tied to the digital age as a signifier of progress.

Neil Postman calls this a “Technopoly”. In a Technopoly, technology eliminates alternatives to itself by making them invisible or irrelevant. Well, hello, Brave New World.

But the kick in the pants is that if you want to do more deep work, you’re probably going to have to reject all the new and high-tech gadgetry.

…Hmm…

Practice makes perfect

On the bright side, practice makes perfect. Deep work is like any activity you do repeatedly, you get better at it. Those neurons that are activated when you focus get reinforced with myelin each time you do it, which helps the nerve fire more effortlessly and effectively.

If you’re scattered and have lots of neurons firing at once, you can’t isolate the group of neurons you want to strengthen, so you don’t have the clear pathways and you won’t see improvement.

Well, how do I get there?

Are you ready to learn what you need to do to practice to have more deep work in your life? If so, be sure to read my next post where I get into Cal’s “rules” for deep work.

If you really want to make sure you don’t miss that future post, you could subscribe! All you need to do is enter your email address and my next post will be delivered right to your inbox. Voila!

Recipe: Veggie-heavy Chicken Soup (and a couple rants about healthy eating)

Veggie-heavy chicken soup#1 Secret to eating healthier

I’ve done some dappling over the years with my nutrition to find the optimal diet for my health, and while there really isn’t ONE diet that “wins” from my perspective, there is one principle that prevails.

Trust me, if you can do this ONE thing, you WILL be eating healthier:

Eat more vegetables. As many as you can. Pack those suckers in!

Duh, no brainer, right? My problem? Vegetables ain’t cake and I have to force myself to eat them sometimes.

#2 Secret to eating healthier

Make it from scratch. All of it.

This is a trick from Michael Pollan. You want potato chips? Fine, have them. After you make them. FROM SCRATCH.

That’s a hell of a lot more trouble than buying a bag of them from the store and stuffing your face, ain’t it? That’s why this secret works. You eat whatever you want, but you have to make it. From. Scratch.

Do those 2 things and you will be eating healthier, especially if you make those foods with unprocessed ingredients like this recipe. 🙂

Enter my veggie-heavy chicken soup

When I cook, I usually follow a recipe, but sometimes I just have a bunch of vegetables to use up before they go bad. So, I get creative. …Hahaha! No I don’t.

I throw all those veggies in a pan with some protein and season it to cover up my lack of culinary talent. No joke.

You would not believe how often I get away with this and oddly enough with praise from my family for a good meal. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I know, I don’t quite get it either.

This soup is one of those “empty the fridge” meals. Believe it or not – it’s freaking DELICIOUS and it easily sneaks in lots o’ nutrients.

If you are gluten-free, paleo, or doing a Whole30, this recipe will work for you.

Ingredients:

  • 1 whole chicken, cooked and shredded
  • 2 TBS butter
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 4-5 carrots, diced
  • 4-6 celery stalks, diced
  • 2 zucchini, cut into half-moons
  • 4-6 cups of bone broth (or chicken broth)
  • 1 bunch of kale, veins removed, chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 2 bay leafs
  • 1 tsp of lemon juice, plus more to taste

Recipe

Step 1: Cook the chicken.

  1. In the morning, put your chicken, frozen or thawed, in a crockpot with at least an inch of water.Tip: If you don’t have chicken broth or bone broth lying around for the soup, fill your crockpot up to an inch from the top with water.
  2. Add salt, pepper, and a bay leaf. How much salt and pepper? Start with a teaspoon of each, but if you love salt and pepper, put a little more in.
  3. Turn the crockpot on low. If your chicken is frozen, let it go for 8 hours. If it’s thawed, go for 6.
  4. After the chicken is done, take it out to cool and then shred it or tear it up into bite size pieces.
  5. Save the broth. (Heck, save the bones while you’re at it and make some more bone broth with them for next time).

Step 2: Saute the veggies.

  1. In a large pot, melt the butter. (And, please, use real butter, grass-fed if you have it. Don’t mess around with margarine. Nobody should be eating that crap. You hear me?)
  2. Throw in the onions, carrots, and celery. Saute until they start to soften. You’re probably looking at 3-5 minutes.
  3. Add the zucchini and saute for a couple more minutes until your veggies are the texture you want them.

Step 3: Put it ALL in the pot.

  1. Add the chicken, garlic, kale, and your second bay leaf to the pot of veggies.
  2. Remember that saved broth from the crockpot? Use it now, if you have it. Fill the pot with as much broth as you want. You like brothy soups? Add more broth, especially if it’s bone broth. Your gut health will thank you.
  3. Heat the soup to the temp you want it to be before you dig in.
  4. When you’re about ready to eat, taste the broth. Pretty blah?
  5. DON’T SKIP THIS STEP: Add that teaspoon of lemon juice and taste it again. You taste the difference? It’s subtle, but that lemon juice gives a little “pop” to the flavor and it’s my secret ingredient in chicken broth based soups.
  6. Add salt and pepper, and even a little more lemon juice if you dig it, until that broth is just how you like it.

Step 4: Dig in!

Did you try it?

Let me know in the comments if you make this soup! I’m curious. 🙂 Hopefully it helps you sneak in some vitamins and minerals without really noticing.

Also, this recipe is intentionally a little loose. If you don’t have kale, use spinach. Don’t have zucchini? No big whoop…try squash instead. Make the soup be what you want it to be and enjoy! Let me know if you make alterations and how it turns out.

Connect with me!

A while back, I created a Facebook page for my blog where I post articles I find helpful or quick tips I’ve learned (like a hard-boiled egg recipe that makes the eggs peel nicely–for realz!). Follow that page if you want to stay connected a bit more.

I also created a Facebook accountability group for those of you obligers like myself that could use a little more supervision to make sure you meet your goals. It’s still a small group, perfect for real accountability, so come join us if you’re interested!

And, lastly, if you haven’t already, be sure to subscribe to get email updates when I have a new post. Seeing my subscribers list tick up makes me smile. It makes me feel like this blog might actually be helpful to somebody. So, please, subscribe and make my day.

Guest Post: The Planned Preoccupation Process

Today I have a special treat for you! My friend, Cori Casner from Planned Preoccupation, has agreed to share her process for ingraining new habits into her repertoire. With her process, she has reached her goals, repeatedly, and she’s going to share her process with us today. Here’s…Cori!

——————————————————————————————————————-

Do you want to retire early; attend a meditation retreat; or learn to play an instrument? But are you overwhelmed by the idea of doing any of these things because you don’t have a 401K plan; never sit still for more than a minute; or own a kazoo? And does it make matters worse that you found time to binge watch Black Mirror, but didn’t have time to walk on the treadmill for 30 minutes? I’m right there with you, but with a little Planned Preoccupation I’ve found a way to make a change.

In the last 2 years I have used the following process to build 10 habits that align with the lofty goals I have for my life.

Identify your lofty goals

First things first, figure out what you want so you can build a plan for getting there. I wanted to give concerted effort to figuring out my passion in life. Honestly, I didn’t even know what that meant the first time I wrote it down, but I knew I couldn’t figure it out if I kept up my same old routine. Even if your goals are vague, they take on significance once you put pen to paper.

Brainstorm small changes

BrainstormingAnother lofty goal of mine is to lead a healthy lifestyle. To me that means being fit enough to walk for miles at theme parks, and managing my stress. The first habits I developed were adding more veggies to my diet and practicing daily meditation because those were small, healthy changes.    

Commit to a small change for 66 days

Target ReachedI use HabitBull to track my habits and their system defaults to a 66 day challenge. It’s more than enough time for a habit to become ingrained in your daily routine. It also gives you time to experiment. When I first started tracking my daily spending I tried out a lot of online resources until I settled on a Google Sheet that I could access from my phone or laptop.

And their Target Reached pop-up is oddly satisfying!

Create an action plan

I love reading, watching movies, and learning new things. When I tackle a new habit I tie it to things I already want to do. For my random acts of kindness habit my action plan included reading books on philanthropy; watching the Billions in Change documentary; and watching Ted Talks On Generosity.

If you can connect your new habit to things you enjoy it will keep you motivated and give you a new perspective on your goals.

Give yourself an incentive

The health and wellness benefits you get from adopting good habits is enough of a reward for some people. For me, I need a little extra push to stay on track. For my minimalist habit we implemented the KonMari method. Our incentive for finishing was a monthly cleaning service at our new house! That kept us motivated even when the steps in the process got really hard. 

A lesson that I’ve learned from following this process is the end game isn’t to build a routine that you do day-in-day-out for the rest of your life. We’re trying to change our default mindset. I don’t drink green smoothies for breakfast every day, like I did when I was first building the habit. But now, when I have a busy morning with no time to think I default to a green smoothie, where before I would’ve eaten a pop-tart.

Armed with a clear goal; small habit; timeline; action plan; and incentive you’re ready to give it a shot. So let’s quit talking and starting doing.

Rowing

The next habit I want to develop is rowing! Please share your new habit in the comments below, and if you’re looking for an accountabilibuddy you can find me over at the Captivated by Curiosity Accountability Group on Facebook.

This is a guest blog post written by Cori Casner, creator of Planned Preoccupation. Personal development, one habit at a time.

3 tools to get you through your mid-life crisis

Photo by Genevieve Dallaire on Unsplash

Maybe it’s my age, or my friends’ ages, but I run into a lot of people that just feel “uneasy” about where they’re at in life. They can’t quite put their finger on what is bothering them: their lives are “good” and “complete” and yet they feel discontent about it.

There might be different flavors of it, but essentially, my friends, it’s a mid-life crisis.

I’m definitely in this camp. The whole “what is my purpose?” question is enough to send me into a full on anxiety attack. “I don’t know what my purpose is! I’ve tried to find it and I still don’t KNOW.”

I think I’ve been suffering a mid-life crisis for at least the past year, probably longer. Fumbling along, trying to make whatever it is in my soul that is not happy, happy and complete.

I’ve read books and blogs on happiness, habits, purpose, and fulfillment. I’ve tried to be more reflective. I’ve tried making lifestyle changes. I’ve tried ignoring it. And although I didn’t buy a sports car, I did buy a house in the woods, so…

It hasn’t gone away, but it has gotten better. Significantly better. And I think these tools are the reason why.

Tool 1: Meditation

I know, this meditation thing is all over the self-improvement arena and you’re probably sick of hearing it, but seriously, nothing can calm my shit down more than 10 minutes focused on my breath.

When you’re in mid-life crisis, you spend a lot of time feeling “off”, like you’re supposed to be doing something really important, but you don’t know what it is. It’s kind of like a perpetual state of that nightmare where you have to take a test you didn’t study for. Gah!

Meditation calms you by letting you get some distance from your thoughts. It’s like pulling in a friend that can point out where you’re not seeing things so clearly or where your inner-voice is needlessly leading you to Dramaland. Perspective like that is invaluable when you need to figure out what you need to do to feel better.

So, even if you’re sick of hearing about meditation or if you’re doubtful it will work for you or not, try it anyway. And, keep trying it because the practice of meditation is where “the magic” happens.

Tool 2: Journal

Get to know thyself, friend. You’re in mid-life crisis because your brain and heart are trying to tell you something.

Meditation will help you shut up. Journaling will help you listen.

Feeling bugged about something and can’t quite put your finger on it? Write it out. Want to start working on some goal to see if that helps? Journal it. Want to find your purpose? Journal it.

Writing things down helps crystallize your understanding of yourself, which is key when you’re trying to figure out what the hell you need. So give it a go.

And don’t put a bunch of rules and baggage around this. Just do it when you feel the urge. No more guilt about not journaling every night before bed. This is not that habit. This is about healing yourself and using this tool when you need it.

And don’t get hung up on what to journal with. Pen and paper. An app. Whatever. Just let it all out.

Tool 3: Playtime

Remember when you were a kid and you did whatever you loved doing as soon as you had time for it? Maybe it was a game you liked to play. Maybe it was coloring or jumping rope. Whatever it was, bring that back. Do it. Make time for it.

Adults suck at playing. We’re taught that we have so much to do and don’t have time to play. Bullshit.

I’ve learned that if I don’t make time for play, my inner-self, or whatever in the hell it is, gets all upset and tries to bring me down. If I’m playing, I’m happier.

Make time for it. Make it a priority.

That’s it?

No. These tools may help you with your crisis, but if you’re not taking care of your health, it all falls apart.

Your health is the most important tool in this kit, but I didn’t list it as one because we all know we’re supposed to take care of ourselves. I didn’t want to give you a tool you already have because you would feel cheated.

However, if you’re not getting the nutrients, sleep, and exercise you need, you’re not going to feel right and all the meditation in the world won’t help you. So take care of yourself and see if that crisis you’re in doesn’t improve.

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New stuff!

If you missed my last post on accountability systems, I’ve created a new Facebook page for the blog where I put out smaller tips and ongoings.

I also created an accountability group for my blog subscribers, so if you’re having trouble sticking with your resolutions, be sure to join us there!

Accountability systems: A few fresh ideas

You got this

Photo by sydney Rae on Unsplash

This is the last post in a 5-part series on goal setting just in time for the new year.

So far we’ve talked about your goal-setting personality, how to find goals to cover all aspects of your life, and how to reverse engineer those goals so that you know what it takes to get them done. Today, we talk about some accountability systems that you can use to keep you on track with your goals and hopefully some of them are new to you.

1 – Hire accountability

Since I’ve left college I’ve tried to have accountability partners in my workout escapades and it hasn’t worked out. Not once.

I’m not saying it won’t work for you, but it just hasn’t worked for me. Reasons? Nobody wants to workout when I do (at the crack of freaking dawn for some damn reason?), I can’t keep up with them and feel like an out-of-shape lardy around them, or we don’t want to do the same workouts.

I’ve tried using my hubs for this and that doesn’t work either because I just get mad at him for pointing out that I missed my workout. (I am THE BEST spouse ever, BTW.)

According to Gretchen Rubin, in her book The Four Tendencies, she says that having a family member be your accountability partner often doesn’t work because you don’t see them as “external”. You see them as a part of you. Which is probably why I got mad at hubs for calling me on my shit. I knew I missed a workout and I didn’t need my “other self” pointing it out. (Like I said. BEST spouse EVER.)

And, even when I do find an accountability partner, as soon as they quit working out, I’m done. I might hang in there and give the ole college try for a few more workouts, but without somebody expecting me to do my stuff, it doesn’t happen. Cough. Obliger. Cough.

So, if you want a solid accountability partner and you haven’t had much luck finding one, I suggest hiring somebody to do it.

Craigslist: I read Onward The Absolute No B.S. Raw Ridiculous Sour-Stirring Truth About Training for Your First Marathon by Brook Kreder a 5 years ago and in there she talks about how when she was training, she put an ad out on Craigslist for somebody to be her trail aid: somebody to have water for her at various stops and take care of her on these long runs. She was amazed at how easy it was to find somebody to do this job for her and how cheap it was. (You can checkout my super short review of that book on Goodreads.)

So, you could go on Craigslist and hire an accountability partner. Just lay out what you expect from them and how much you’ll pay. Probably run a background check on them before you hire them, just in case.

Go Pro: Craigslist creep you out? Another option: Hire a personal trainer or accountability coach. This is not necessarily a cheap investment, so make sure they know that you need them to check in on you. Get a plan in place. Don’t assume that by hiring them they will automatically keep you in check. If this seems like something you’re interested in, you might like Coach.me. I haven’t tried it yet, but seems like a viable place to start.

2 – Find a group

A group of people to hold you accountable is far more likely to succeed than a single person – no single-point of failure! If a group doesn’t already exist that meets your needs, create one.

I have done this in my past and it has worked well for me and most other members of the group. Unfortunately, I had set the group up in such a way that it was more overhead for me than what I had bargained for and I grew tired. But, now I’ve discovered an easier way to do it:

Create a Facebook group: You’re already on Facebook, so why not use it for something useful rather than just scrolling through your feed? You can create a private group in Facebook where you and your remote pals get together for the sole purpose of keeping each other on track. No more annoying all your friends with your workout posts. Do it in your group and be guilt free.

Here are the instructions on how to do it.

Put some ground rules down though. If your friends join the group, make sure they know that they are supposed to comment on at least n updates a day (where n depends on the size of your group and how active you want it to be). Don’t let folks hide in the shadows. Help them be active members and help move themselves and everybody else forward. Afterall, how will your accountability group work if you’re the only one cheering folks on?

Join my Facebook group: If you prefer to just join a group, you can join my group. We don’t need to be Facebook friends, but you do need to be a subscriber of this blog to get in. You can also join at any time. Just go the the group page and request to join.

Incidentally, when I created that group this morning, I also created a Facebook page for this blog, so be sure to check that out if you’re interested.

Disclaimer: I just set this group up this morning, so don’t be shocked if it’s just you and I in there for now. O_o

Check Meetup: Check for local meetups about a goal you’re working on. For example, if your goal is to write more, check to see if there is a writing meetup in your area. These are free to join.

Join Better: If you dig Gretchen Rubin and buy into the idea of her four tendencies (we talked about these here), be sure to check out her new app Better.

In Better there are many groups for you to join for your particular tendency so that you can have the most success. I’ve been using it for about a week now and it seems to be a truly supportive group. Keep in mind that you get what you put into it. If you join and just lurk, you’re not going to be impressed. So, if you go this route, be an active member. Post comments and suggestions and check in with your groups that you join. Own it.

You can also create a private group on Better. I haven’t done this yet, but I know it’s an option.

3 – Use a habit tracker

Homemade habit tracker: I’m a bullet journaler and am very familiar with the idea of a habit tracker in a notebook. Here are a bunch of images of this.

I’ve used habit trackers in my bujo before and they can be effective as long as you check in everyday. It can be very satisfying to check those boxes or fill them in. However, if you only access that tracker on weekdays or just weekends, that habit tracker may not be so effective. So, if you decide to go this route, be sure to keep it handy.

You can also use a wall calendar for this and use Seinfeld’s streak method. Not only is this a very visual way to see where you’re showing up, but if you hang it in a spot you see every day, you can’t avoid it. #winning

Use a habit tracker app: There are many habit tracker apps and some apps have habit trackers built into them. For example, if you use Headspace or Calm for meditation, they have a “streak” measurement built in for you so that you can see those days tick up or that calendar get marked each time you meditate.

But, there are also apps for tracking any habit you’re working on. Lifehacker has pulled together a nice list of options.

4 – Play a game

Try Mindbloom: Mindbloom is an online app that kind of works like those Giga Pets from about 2 decades ago. But instead of having a “pet” die when you didn’t press buttons on the keyfob, in Mindbloom you do the thing you said you were going to do and your plant flourishes. You don’t, your plant gets sad and dies.

If you’re an Obliger and are motivated by other things depending on you to complete your habits, this may be a fun way to do it.

Join Nerd Fitness: Nerd Fitness is an online game geared towards nerds that want to get fit. It’s quite brilliant: you workout, level up, and progress through the fitness adventure. Check it out if you resonate with that crowd. It costs money, but once you sign up, you’re in for life.

It looks like they have a newer program now called Rising Heroes in addition to the standard Nerd Fitness that looks interesting.

Try Fitocracy: Fitocracy is another free gaming system you can use to help you stay consistent. You earn points, level up, get badges, do challenges, and go on quests when you workout. There’s an online community and groups you can join to stay accountable. I am a Fitocrat so we can connect up if you want (my Fitocrat name is PattyM, just send me a message to let me know you found me via my blog so I know who you are). If you join up, use my promo code and get $20 towards their coaching program. (Full disclosure, I also get $20 towards coaching when you use my link).

Conclusion

Those are my favorite ways to stay accountable right now. Let me know in the comments if you have other ways. I’m always looking for more tools to add to my toolbelt.

This sums up the goal setting series. You can catch earlier posts on my new Recent posts page that you’ll find in the left nav or you can use this handy list right here:

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Reverse engineering goals to make them actionable. For real.

Schematic

Photo by Elliott Stallion on Unsplash

Hey, Curiosity Club! We’re talking goals again in this post to gear up for 2018.

For those of you that are REALLY not into this goal stuff, hang in there! One more post to go and then I’ll cover other topics.

For those of you thinking I’m going to talk about SMART goals…Ha! You’re wrong! That is too elementary for this crowd, my dear Watson.

This is the 4th post in a series of 5 about goals for 2018. So far we’ve covered your goal-setting personality and a method for picking your goals. Up on deck for today, we are reverse engineering your goals so that you can crush them in 2018. And I mean CRUSH. So let’s get started!

Reverse engineering…ooh, fun!

Now that you have your goals picked out, you need to figure out what it’s going to take to get them done. I’m going to show you a way to find a path to success, regardless of the size of the goal you have, so stick with me.

Step 1: Mindmap

I don’t know about you, but when I’m planning anything, if I sit down and try to write down all the steps necessary I always miss something. But this helps catch it all: the one and only mindmap, baby!

I don’t know why this tool is so magical, but it is. It helps me see the relationships between things better and whenever I have to start a big project and am feeling overwhelmed, this is where I turn. Every. Time.

  1. Grab a blank piece of paper (you’ll need one for each goal).
    P.S. You can do this electronically if you want, but I find paper and pen is the fastest and most effective way for me to do this.
  2. In the center of the page, put the goal.
  3. Now, draw bubbles off the center goal for all the major pieces of that goal. For example, if your goal is to be able to do a pullup by the end of the year (or 20 because you’re badass), what are the major things that need to be done to make that happen?
    • Do you need a gym membership or do you have a home gym you can do this with?
    • Do you need a trainer?
    • Do you know what exercises you need to do to build up the strength you need to do a pullup?
    • Do you need some workout clothes?
    • Do you need a workout partner?
    • Got the tunes you need to power through picked out?
  4. Go until your brain is numb and nothing more will come out. Seriously.

Step 2: Build a timeline

Planner

Photo by Jazmin Quaynor on Unsplash

This is where I usually fall down with my goals. I never put my tasks on a timeline and then I quit because I’m overwhelmed or I forget to write down what needs to be done to reach my goals and it all goes to shit. So don’t skip this step because it’s where the magic happens. (LOTS of magic in this post today I see.) 😀

What we’re shooting for with this is to not have EVERY little task of what needs to happen to be mapped out, but we want a timeline to shoot for so that we can honestly say whether we’re off the rails or not.  Right now, you’ve got a mind map of things you need to do for each goal. We need to figure out when those things need to be done so that you can plan accordingly.

Here we go…

  1. Take another piece of paper and put the numbers 1-12 on it. Or, if you want to write words, write each month of the year on there.
  2. Look at your bubbles and find the things that need to be done first. Put those items under the “1” or “January” section of your page.
    • Sticking with that pullup list, you probably need to figure out the gym situation and the exercises first because without those, you ain’t doing squat. (Ha! See what I did there? So clevah!) So put those items in the January spot.
  3. What has to be done next and when does it need to be done? Put it on the calendar.
    • Let’s say you want to find a workout partner by the end of February.
    • Workout clothes, well those can come in your birthday month and can serve as a reward if you stick with this for a couple months, so let’s plot that in March.
    • Get a trainer…let’s throw that in May, so that they can teach you new tricks after you get the basics down.
  4. Now that you have your bubbles on there, let’s add the milestones to work toward.
    • Maybe you need to be able to carry 80-lb weights in a farmer walk by March so that your hand strength is up to snuff.
    • Maybe you need to be able to lift half your body weight in an assisted pullup by June.
    • And of course, you need to put the deadline of the pullup (or 20) at the end of the year on there.
  5. Do a gut check.
    • How’s that looking? Still feeling doable? If so, great! If not, rework either the goal or the milestones until it’s doable.
    • Did you get all the milestones you can think of on there? Add as many as possible because not only do they give you a goal to work toward, but they also let you know when you’re falling behind plan or if you’re ahead of schedule. Boom!

Step 3: Figure out your check-in cadence

Depending on your goal-setting personality and the goal itself, how often you do a review of your progress or a “checkin” will vary. If you are an Obliger and need a lot of accountability, you may want to do these reviews daily. If you’re an Upholder, maybe once a month is enough for you. It depends on what sounds reasonable and not suffocating to you. Suggestions to consider:

  • Daily
  • Weekly
  • Bi-weekly
  • Monthly

I wouldn’t go longer than a month without checking progress against my goal. I think anything longer than a month would make that goal just to easy to forget about. However, I’m not your boss, so do whatever you think would be best.

Step 4: Create your check-in checklist

checklist

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Think about your checkin or self review. What is that going to consist of?

  • I’m guessing that whether or not you’re on track is a question you’ll want to ask.
  • Maybe you’ll want to note if you’re getting all your workouts in (to continue with this pullup example) or if you missed some.
  • If you missed some, ask why and what you’re going to do about it to prevent it in the future.

You need to be really honest with yourself in these checkins. You need to know where you are showing up for your goals and where you’re not.

Make a list of all the questions you need to ask yourself and be ready to make copies of it. You will no doubt forget a key question in your checkin, so write it down. You can’t keep all this stuff in your head!

Your checklist might change throughout the year as you find more things to measure and account for and that is perfectly fine, but have it written down.

Step 5: Plan your days

You know what you want and what it will take to get there. Now you need to get there. This is where planning your days comes into play.

You can do this a multitude of ways, but here are a couple of the most effective options I’ve come across. You can do either or both of these depending on your personality, or you can figure out another way to do it.

Most-Important Tasks

Each day write down the 3 things you need to do to move closer to your goals. At the end of each day, see if you were able to do those 3 things. If you were, sweet. What’s next for tomorrow? If not, what happened and how can you get them done tomorrow?

Note: This is NOT a standard to-do list. No “do the laundry” allowed here. No work tasks either unless your goal involves your work.

This is all about what you need to do to move YOUR agenda forward. The other stuff will get done like it always does. But these 3 things are ONLY goal related.

The beauty of this is that it will get you into the minutia of what it takes to move the peg on your goals.

Should you have all your tasks planned out?

In my opinion, it’s ok if you don’t have these tasks all lined up right now because creating this daily list will make you figure those tasks out. Things shift as you get into the real work, so even if you did write all the tasks down now, they’ll likely not be what you want to work on in 3 months.

However, I tend to follow my intuition a little too much for most folks comfort level, so if not writing down all the tasks is freaking you out a bit, then go ahead and do so. Do you!

If you have more than 3 goals, how do you pick your 3 tasks?

Remember those dominos from last time? That may be a daily task for you. Or, if you’ve been working really hard on one goal and ignoring another, maybe give the ignored one some sunlight. You gotta juggle some plates here, but as long as everything is moving in the right direction, you’re solid.

If juggling stresses you out, then try having “seasons” for each goal where the “in-season” goal gets more focus than the others. Or, maybe you drop some less important goals until you have the others under control. Do what you need.

Calendar

If you have studied David Allen’s GTD system in your quest for ultimate productivity and have drank that Kool-Aid, you will likely cringe at this idea, but I’m going to put it out there anyway.

Put the time that you’re going to work on your goal on your calendar. Make it recurring if that helps. Add your checkins to your calendar, too!

Are these GTD-quality calendar events? No. It’s a task in most cases. *GASP!* Will it help you anyway? Probably, so take that GTD baggage elsewhere. Sincerely, a GTD junkie.

Here’s the deal. If you make time for this work in your calendar, it’s more likely to happen. But here’s the key: You have to do the work when you schedule it.

Don’t “snooze” and “dismiss” your way to disappointment. Schedule it. Do it. Done.

Next time…

I have one more post in this series and it is on accountability systems.

If you haven’t figured out my goal-setting personality yet, I am an Obliger. So this is an area that I need to work on, as do many people since it’s a more common tendency.

Good news: I have some ideas on some accountability systems that might be the answer to your goal-setting needs. Also, hint: That checkin, checklist, and planning your day bit are also accountability systems. (Sneaking them in early!)

So, make sure you don’t miss the next post by SUBSCRIBING! 🙂 You knew that was coming, right? Also, please share this blog post with any of your friends that might find it helpful. Share the love, man! 😀

Also, my comments section has been absolutely barren since I kicked this thing off and that makes me sad, so don’t be shy! Speak up and let me know if this stuff helps you or not or if you want to see something on another topic.

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Picking goals to set yourself up for success

dream catcher2018 is almost here! Did you get done in 2017 what you had hoped? If not, will you get it done in 2018?

I am one of those people. Those damn resolution goal setters. And, I, like most of my New Year’s junkies, also have the problem of getting those goals done, but I digress.

Man, do I love setting goals! Dreaming of the future is my sweet spot. I set goals almost every week of the year because they’re fun and invigorating, but New Year’s makes this hobby a little more special. 🙂

Let’s get to it!

Areas of life to consider

When you’re goal setting, there are many facets of your life you can focus on. In The Miracle Morning, Hal Elrod talks about having a “Level 10 Life” where you work to achieve a high score of 10 in 10 different facets of your life.

Although his tool involves more than just goal setting, I think these 10 areas of life are handy to consider when you’re brainstorming what you want to accomplish. The 10 areas are:

  1. Family and friends
  2. Personal development
  3. Spirituality
  4. Finances
  5. Career and business
  6. Marriage
  7. Fun and recreation
  8. Giving and contribution
  9. Physical environment
  10. Health and fitness

5 Steps for goal planning

  1. Take each of those areas of life listed above and start thinking about how you could improve each of them in the next year.   
    • Maybe you’ve got 5, 8, and 10 good to go, but really need to work on the others. If that’s the case, then focus in on those areas that need work and brainstorm what you would like to get done in the next year to improve those areas.
    • For those areas that you are doing well in, you can still create goals for those areas (they still need love), but just don’t prioritize them as high as these other areas you want to work on.
  2. Take those big goals and break them down into 4 smaller milestones.
    • This will get you to 4 90-day chunks that you can use to gauge how attainable your goals are.
  3. Do a gut check.
    • How are those 90-day milestones looking? Are they doable?
    • Do they strike a little jolt of excitement in you or do you feel completely overwhelmed?
    • If you’re feeling a little scared, perfect! You nailed it!
    • If you’re feeling downright panicky about it and you know there’s no way that this will be fun, then look again at your milestones. Is one of your milestones a more attainable goal for the next year than the one you originally picked? Then make that milestone your goal for 2018, and repeat steps 2 & 3 until you feel excited and not freaked out.
  4. Look for the domino. (This is a concoction I’m blending up from Chalene Johnson’s idea of a “push goal” and Charles Duhigg’s idea of a “keystone habit”).
    • Now that you have your goals and milestones all figured out, take a look and see if you can find a goal that will make 2 or more of your goals easier to achieve. (This is Chalene’s idea of a “push” goal.)
    • For example, say I have a goal to write 80 blog posts next year, read 45 books, and meditate for 10 minutes a day, but I’m a mom and work full time, so I’m going to do this…when? Then my push goal may be to get up earlier in the morning to make sure that I set aside time each day for these goals.
    • But, I’m not a morning person. Getting up early is a great goal and all, but now I need a keystone habit to pull me through. So what keystone habit can I use to help me get out of bed in the morning? Perhaps my new keystone habit is to set my alarm on my phone and put my phone in my bathroom before bed each night so that I have to get up to get that alarm before my husband hates me.
    • If that’s the case, then my domino is to instill that keystone habit into my nightly routine so that I can get up early and crush my goals before my regular day starts.
  5. Include the systems you need to meet these goals based on your tendency in your goal setting. If you don’t know what I mean by that, check out my last post on your goal-setting personality. For example:
    • Upholders – you probably don’t need much for this other than to know what you expect yourself to get done and what the “rules” are. Look for ways to add your goals to your daily routines.
    • Questioners – make sure you have your data on your goals and know why it’s important for you to get these goals done. Create systems to help you get these things done. Be aware of analysis-paralysis; maybe try time-boxing your research time.
    • Obligers – you HAVE to create an external accountability system for your goals. If possible, find a human to hold you accountable and probably not a family member since you can view them as “yourself” instead of external people. Look for groups, gadgets, trackers, and coaches to check in on you so that you get your stuff done. If that won’t work, try to couch your goals in such a way that they’re necessary for you to do so that you can help another person.
    • Rebels – If you get motivated by somebody telling you you can’t get something done, then maybe have somebody do that. Give yourself some options so that you still have freedom of choice. Know the information about your goals, the consequences of what will happen if you don’t do them, and that you always have a choice to make. Want to work out daily? Make it your choice of when to work out each day and what activity you will do as long as you get it done. Identify with the person you want to become: be that person. Remember that you don’t have to do any of your goals – it’s always your choice.

Prioritizing goals

Now that you have your goals, milestones, and domino figured out, you might have 11 (or more) goals for the year. For some of you, that will make you feel excited to get started. For others, it might be freaking you the hell out to see that long list of things to do.

Time to prioritize.

Why? Because regardless of how much of an Upholder you are (or aren’t), there are going to be days when you can’t or don’t want to get it all done, but you still want to feel like you worked toward your goals and accomplished something on your agenda that mattered to you. Or, if you’re kind of bugging about the long list of things to do, then you may feel some relief if you know which goals take priority over others.

If you were able to identify your domino, you may want to make that your top priority out of all your other goals because with that one, you’ll make progress towards getting 2 or more of your goals closer to the finish line.

However, if that domino doesn’t have big impact on those areas of your life that you may need the most work, then maybe you want to prioritize those goals instead.

Next time

That’s all for this time. Next time we’ll talk about how to distill the actions out of those big goals. Reverse engineering…always a blast. 😉

Talk to me!

Let me know in the comments how this part goes for you. Also, let me know…does that domino idea work for you or am I really making a stretch? Speak to me!

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