Tag Archives: productivity

10 Things I’ve Learned in 10 Years of Blogging

Unbelievable! I just hit my tenth anniversary for this blog. I can’t believe it. The days are long, but the years are short. 

Certainly, when I started, I had no idea that I was embarking on an project that would become such a big part of my day, my identity, my writing career, and my relationships. In fact, I remember thinking, “Yes, I’m stressed out about writing these first posts, but that’s okay, because no one will ever read them.

That first post, “The Blog Begins,” is here, if you’re curious.

Here are ten things I’ve learned from ten years of blogging:

1. It’s often easier to do something every day than some days.

This sounds counter-intuitive, but I’ve found it to be very true. I write on this site most days, so I don’t debate with myself, “Today, tomorrow? I wrote last week, can I take this week off?” I know I have to write on my blog, so I do. In Better Than Before, I explore this phenomenon more.

2. People like to learn in different ways.

I’m a writer, and I like to provide ideas in text — and no surprise, that’s also the way I learn best. But I’ve found that some people prefer videos, some people prefer audio, some people prefer to get email, some people prefer social media. To reach a wide range of people, we have to think about all of that.

3. People are more wildly creative, insightful, and articulate than I could possibly imagine.

I’m constantly blown away by the comments I get from readers and listeners. Such fascinating stories, such astute comments.  I feel so lucky to live at a time when technology makes this kind of engagement so easy, because it has has deepened my understanding of my subjects immeasurably. To take just one tiny example, when I asked people, “What’s the motto of your Tendency?’ I got brilliant, hilarious answers. My favorite: “You can’t make me, and neither can I” for the Rebels.

4. It’s fun to have a consistent record — any kind of record — of the past.

onesentencejournalimage
I often look back to see what I wrote on my site on this date, some years ago. It’s so fun!  I think this is why my One-Sentence Journal: a Five-Year Record has proved so popular. Most people won’t keep a blog, or write long journal entries, but writing one sentence seems manageable and fun, and is enough to bring back memories.

5.For creativity, it’s better to pour out ideas rather than to dole them out with a teaspoon.

When I started blogging — and I confess, I still have this thought, sometimes, ten years later — I’d think, “This is a great idea. I should hold it back, so in case I ever run out of ideas, I’ll have something in reserve.” No! I have to trust in myself, trust that I’ll get more ideas. The more I do, the more I can do.  It’s one of my Personal Commandments: Spend out.

6. As a writer, the biggest challenge is to make readers aware that a book exists.

There’s so much to read, watch, and listen to these days — how does a person hear about a particular book? I’ve found that it’s very helpful to have my own way to connect with an audience that’s interested in my subjects.

7. An atmosphere of growth makes me happier.

In my Eight Splendid Truths about Happiness, the First Splendid Truth is:  To be happier, we must think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth. We’re happier when we’re growing: when we’re learning something, helping someone, improving something, making things better. With my blog, and also social media and my podcast, I have the feeling of learning new things, engaging in new ways, learning new skills, meeting new people, adding new identities to my sense of myself. Along those lines…

8. Novelty and challenge make me happier.

When I was writing The Happiness Project, I needed to use myself as a human guinea pig for the notion, often suggested by scientist, that novelty and challenge make people happier. I thought, “Well, that might be true for most people, but not for me.” To test the idea, I decided to start a blog — which seemed very novel and challenging to me. I figured I’d give it a short for three or four weeks, decide that it didn’t work, and abandon it — the way I abandoned my gratitude journal. But no! I realized that even for someone like me, novelty and challenge did make me happier. Of course, they also gave me moment of anxiety, frustration, and anger, but those feeling paid off. If you want to read about this, check out the chapter for March, “Aim Higher,” in The Happiness Project.

9. It’s true, as research suggests, that we’re happier when we have many aspects to our identity.

Having many identities protects us: if you get fired from your job, you can think, “People think I’m doing a great job at the church finance committee”; if you can’t play tennis anymore, you can think, “Now I have more time to garden.” Adding the identity of “blogger” (and then “podcaster”) to my professional identity was enormously energizing, interesting, and reassuring.

10. Don’t get it perfect, get it going.

The longest journey starts with a single step. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. All these proverbs are true. When I was starting this blog, I was paralyzed by the desire to do everything right — and there were so many decisions to make! Finally, I decided, “I’m going to talk to a few smart people with blogs, and do whatever they do. I can change things later, if I want.” That was a great way to get started. It’s one of my Secrets of Adulthood: Most decisions don’t require extensive research.

To celebrate the tenth anniversary, I’ve pulled together a short e-book that features my favorite posts from the last decade. It was so much fun to choose what pieces to include.

You can order it here, for $1.99.

Sidenote: I just realized that my blog anniversary is the same day as the wedding anniversary for both my parents and my in-laws. That seems auspicious! Both couples have been married for more than fifty years.

Agree, Disagree? “Forming New Habits Can Actually Be Fun.”

Interview: Chris Bailey.

I learned about Chris’s fascinating work through a mutual blogger friend, the wonderful Neil Pasricha. Chris has a blog, and he’s written a book about the project he did, to spend a year experimenting on himself to figure out to be more…productive. So of course I was intrigued! His book, The Productivity Project: Accomplishing More by Managing Your Time, Attention, and Energy, recently hit the shelves.

It was very interesting for me to hear his views, because in so many ways we took different approaches to changing our habits — which is a great example of my core belief about habits, that to change our habits, we must all figure out what works for us. For instance, I changed my eating habits completely, overnight; for Chris, making small, incremental changes worked. And of course I abandoned meditation! Which is his most essential habit.

Gretchen: You’ve done fascinating thinking. What’s the most significant thing you’ve concluded on the subject of habits and productivity?

Chris: Like you, I see forming new habits as a way of leveling up to become more productive automatically. Of course, habits take energy and willpower to form. But when we form the right habits for the right reasons, all of that effort becomes worthwhile.

So much of my work focuses on which habits make us the most productive. In the short-run, productive habits can be a challenge to implement, but in the long-run they pay incredible dividends.

What’s the one habit you couldn’t live without?

By a wide margin, my daily meditation ritual. Right next to the desk in my office, I keep a meditation cushion, and meditate for 30 minutes every day—I’ve had this practice for years, since starting university.

Hardly any habit allows me to become more productive than my daily meditation ritual—despite how strange that may sound on the surface.

I think the connection between meditation and productivity is simple. Meditation has been shown to help you bring more focus to what’s in front of you in the moment, and resist distractions and temptations, and this lets you get the same amount of stuff done in less time. I’m personally not a fan of the word “efficiency” as far as productivity is concerned; I think it reduces it down to something that feels cold and corporate. But there’s really no better word here: when you bring more focus to your work, you accomplish more in less time. Meditation helps you spend your time more efficiently. You can easily make back the time you spend meditating in increased productivity, especially if your work requires a lot of brainpower.

I don’t think productivity is about doing more, faster—I see it as spending time on the right things, and working more intentionally, so you can accomplish more. This is what makes meditation, and mindfulness for that matter, so powerful. I wouldn’t trade the practice for anything!

What other habits are most important to you—that you’ve found indispensable for your creativity and productivity?

One of the most exciting parts about my productivity project was how I got the chance to play around with so many habits, to see which ones led me to accomplish more (regardless of how difficult they were to implement at the time!) On top of my meditation ritual, a few I wouldn’t give up for anything are:

  • Defining three daily intentions. My favorite daily productivity ritual is to, every morning, step back and consider what three main things I’ll want to have accomplished by the time the workday is done. It’s a simple ritual, but setting these intentions gives me a guiding light for when $%* hits the fan throughout the day, which it often does. It also lets me step back, if only for a few minutes, to think about what’s important. I see intention behind our actions as like the wood behind the arrow. I maintain a to-do list, too, but this simple rule helps me work that much more intentionally, and flip of autopilot mode for a few minutes to consider what’s most important.
  • Disconnecting from the internet. Whenever I want to hunker down on something important, I almost always disconnect from the internet. This was hard at first, but the habit has paid incredible productivity dividends with time. I also wrote most of my book while disconnected from the internet, which I think is one of the main reasons I was able to ship it six weeks ahead of schedule! One study found that we spend an average of 47% of our time on the internet procrastinating. I’ve found totally disconnecting to be another great way to accomplish more in less time.
  • Single-tasking. Doing just one thing at a time is a less stimulating way of working compared to multitasking. But the research on multitasking is conclusive: we totally suck at it, and multitasking invariably makes us less productive. I don’t see productivity as how busy we are—I see it as how much we accomplish. That’s what we’re left with at the end of the day. Just because you’re busy doesn’t mean you’re productive, and this is especially the case with multitasking. Even though I prefer to multitask, I work on just one thing at a time most of the day, because the practice lets me get so much more done. It’s not even close!

 

What’s something you know now about forming healthy habits that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

That forming new habits can actually be fun. Like so many people, as I’ve tried to shoehorn habits into my life in the past, I just became harder on myself in the process. But that idea runs counter to why we form new habits in the first place: most of us make new habits to turn ourselves into a better, more productive human beings, and being hard on ourselves in the process runs counter to that. The kinder I’ve become on myself while forming new habits, the more they’ve stuck. I’ve had some fun with this, and over time have started to do things like:

  • Reward myself, usually with a tasty meal of some sort when reaching a milestone with my goals.
  • Find social support when making big changes (like finding workout buddies).
  • Shrink habits so they’re not as intimidating. For example, if the thought of working out puts me off, I’ll shrink how long I’ll go for until I’m no longer intimidated by the habit. (E.g. Can I work out for 60 minutes today? Naw, the though of it puts me off. 45 minutes? Nope, still not going to do it. 30 mins? That actually isn’t so bad—I’ll only hit the gym for 30 minutes today.)
  • Making an actual plan to form a habit, so I’m not trying to shoehorn it into my life. I realize that this is pretty lame advice, because on some level everyone knows they should do this, but yet hardly anyone does. For me, the only habits that have stuck have been the ones I’ve thought through in detail. But this could also be because I’m a pretty big Questioner 🙂

 

Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

My biggest weakness is definitely food—out of all of the things in the world, food is one of my favorites. From the time I wake up to the time I go to bed, I’m thinking about it. I’m even thinking about it as we’re chatting right now. But in my experimentation I’ve found that what we eat can have a profound affect on our energy levels and productivity—especially when we eat too much, or we eat too much processed food. (Most of us have experienced that feeling of having almost no energy in the afternoon after a massive, unhealthy lunch.)

The best way I’ve found to change my habits around food that were so ingrained—like eating too much, eating too much processed food, and eating when I was stressed out— has been to chip away at these habits over time.

In my opinion, the best diet in the world is the exact one you have already, but with one small, incremental improvement. Making incremental improvements is one of the best ways I’ve found to become healthier; because the changes are small, they won’t intimidate you once your initial motivation runs out. I’ve found this to especially be the case with habits so ingrained. Changes become habits so much faster when they’re not intimidating!

One of my favorite quotes is from Bill Gates, who said that we have the tendency to “overestimate what we can do in one year, and underestimate what we can do in ten years.” I think this holds true for our habits, and our productivity, too. Over time, incremental improvements add up.

Today I Overcame One of My Annoying Habits. Here’s How.

One of my worst habits — or, I should say, one of my most self-annoying habits — is that I hate to make appointments.

I dislike using the phone. I dislike adding commitments to my calendar. I dislike getting my haircut or my teeth cleaned. Etc. So I find it very, very difficult to make myself pick up the phone and call to make appointments.

I know this perfectly well about myself. So while I was on vacation in Kansas City last week, I vowed that I would use the Strategies of Monitoring, Scheduling, and Clarity to make a bunch of necessary appointments.

In my book Better Than Before, I describe how I use  “Power Hour.Each weekend, I make a list of chores that I’ve been putting off, and I dedicate an hour to completing them — but Power Hour doesn’t work for appointments, because most places are only open during the week.

So I used a special installment of my weekly “Power Hour” to get myself to tackle this dreaded task. At 6:30 a.m. this morning, I made a list of all the appointments I needed to make. And at 10:00 a.m., when I figured that everyplace would be open, I called.

Within the hour, I made appointments to:

— get nasal flu vaccines for my daughters and me (I’ve tried to do this before, but they kept running out)

— get my hair cut

–get a dentist appointment

— get an eye doctor’s appointment for my daughter (this required two calls, and I was very impressed with myself that I made the two calls, back to back)

–get an annual check-up for my daughter

Well, I must say, this list doesn’t look terribly impressive, now that I type it up, but it took every ounce of my strength and habit-formation knowledge to do it.

Phew! Funnily enough, I dread making the appointments more than keeping them — even something like going to the dentist.

Those little tasks, left undone, drain my energy — and even though I know that, still I delay.

It does come in handy that I wrote a whole book, Better Than Before, that covers how to form habits, how to fight procrastination, how to adjust for myself and my quirks, etc. But still: physician, heal thyself. Even if I know what to do, I still have to do it.

How about you? Do you struggle to complete some simple, ordinary task that other people seem to find easy?

 

Habit Short-Cut! Use the Time Change to Help You Change Your Habits. Painlessly.

For Better Than Before, when I talk to people about the habits they want to change, they often mention that they lack the time for a new habit.

To clear time to schedule a new morning habit, many people try waking up a bit earlier, but this can be tough for people who struggle to get out of bed.

One trick? Use the upcoming time change to add an hour to your morning.

Make Time for Something Important

Daylight Saving Time ends as 2:00 a.m. on November 1, and you can use this as a painless way to add an extra hour to the morning. (Obviously this only works if you live in a place that follows DST.) Getting up earlier is a great way to make time for something important to you.

We all love to “fall back” and to get that extra hour of sleep on Sunday morning. It’s a great boon to get a little extra sleep. In fact, car accidents and heart attacks are more common in the week after Daylight Saving Time starts, because losing that hour puts stress on people’s bodies.

But while you may love that extra hour of sleep, consider not sleeping in, but instead get up after your customary time. Your body is getting up as usual, but the clock will say that you’re up an hour early.  And there’s a lot you can do with that hour–especially if the people around you are still sound asleep.

Change Your Surroundings

Remember, when it comes to habits, it’s easier to change your surroundings than to change yourself or other people. It’s easier to get in the habit of waking up earlier by getting up at the same time, when the clock changes, than to train yourself to get up earlier.

A reader commented: “A couple years ago I decided not to reset my clock at the end of daylight savings. I had thought of myself as a night owl, but suddenly had writing/exercise time.”

You could use that time to do something like exercise or work on a project–or maybe you want to use it for pure pleasure. I have a friend who wakes up early to read for fun.

The morning is a great time to form a regular habit, because self- control is high, there are fewer distractions, and it’s highly predictable.

Now, this system wouldn’t work for true “owls” who stay up late and sleep late. But for many people, it’s possible to make a very satisfying use of that hour.

Get Yourself to Bed On Time

NOTE: If you try this strategy, you must also go to sleep earlier! It’s so, so, so important to get enough sleep, and if you lose an hour in the morning, you need to gain that time in sleep. (Here are some tips for getting yourself to go to bed on time.)

Where would you rather have the hour? At the end of the day, or at the start of the day?

Most people would use those slots in very different ways.  The hour of 6:00-7:00 am looks very different from the hour of 11:00-mindnight. Which hour would contribute the most to your happiness?

If you suddenly had an extra hour in your day, how would you use it? Have you ever used this method–or any other–to shift your waking time?

Like Andy Warhol, Would You Like to Have a Boss on Retainer? I Sure Would.

“When I think about what sort of person I would most like to have on a retainer, I think it would be a boss. A boss who could tell me what to do, because that makes everything easy when you’re working.”

–Andy Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again)

I like Andy Warhol’s art, but I love his writing.  He is the most extraordinarily interesting writer and observer of human nature. I find myself quoting him all the time, and this is one of the lines that I quote most often.

I find that so true about work — that the hardest part about working is telling yourself what to do.  Once you know what to do, things get much easier.

Note the genius, too, of specifying a boss on retainer. Not a boss all the time! Just when you want one.

How about you? Do you ever wish you could hire a boss on retainer, to tell you what to do?