In this world of hustle and bustle, struggle, outrage and never ending hardship, I advocate for calm and decency.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you struggled during your journey or if you achieved your success with ease and a sense of adventure.
What matters is that you took the necessary steps to get there.
No one is giving you a star for having the most struggle. You get the star for getting valuable work done.
Today I want to talk about why drama and productivity is a bad mix. I will also share my 10 tips on achieving your goals with calm.
I find there is too much drama in the world of goal setting and productivity. People track their lives to the minute, they obsess over their productivity systems, to-do apps, beat themselves up for not achieving their extreme goals, work insane hours. “No pain, no gain”, right? And then they collapse from the unavoidable burn out and still blame it all on the lack of self-discipline.
It looks like a bad drama movie with no happy ending in sight.
Personally, I find that true success comes from calm and consistency. The best decisions are made when you are calm. You are the most productive when you are calm. You can think straight. You can be creative.
Have you ever met anyone who created anything meaningful out of a state of fear? Or out of being rushed or pressured? I haven’t.
If you do any creative work, you aspire to be in the flow state as much as possible. But you can’t get there if you are feeling extreme emotions such as fear, anger, pressure, or even extreme excitement. This is all a drama rollercoaster. You go from extreme lows to extreme highs, and the back to the lows.
We even have this stereotype that artistic people should be either extatic or utterly depressed. No in between. This is a black and white thinking. I think it is total nonsence. It has more to do with creating an interesting story for a movie or a play. It has nothing to do with creating something truly valuable.
Drama is optional. No matter what I’ve experienced over the past few years, I always found that drama was indeed optional.
#1 Focus on your practice, not the outcome. Focus on systems vs. goals.
Every goal has a price. The question is are you willing to pay that price?
A system is the price of a goal. Every time I engage with a practice, I am paying the price for my goal.
If you focus on paying the price, your goal will be automatically completed. Your practice is where your focus should be.
You can either be in the energy of paying the price for your goal or the energy of waiting for the outcome. If you focus on the system vs. a goal, you avoid all the drama. Your focus is on engaging with your practice every single day. That way you know that if you commit to your practice, your goal will be achieved.
In comparison, if you focus on the goal and not the system, there is too much uncertainty. You have no idea how you will achieve it, or when the outcome will magically manifest itself. You simply don’t know. It is outside your control. With uncertainty comes anxiety, frustration, confusion. With uncertainty comes drama.
Let’s say your goal is losing 30 pounds. In comparison, a system can be working out 3 times a day and cooking most of your meals from scratch.
If you focus on losing 30 pounds, you are losing every single day until you hit 30 pounds. Because in your mind, you are not there yet. And you are in a hurry.
However, if you focus on the system, you win every single day when you cook your meals from scratch and do any form of working out.
Focusing on the outcomes brings drama. Focusing on the system brings confidence and calm.
#2 Very few things are as urgent and important as you think.
Being rushed and pressured is the opposite of being calm.
With our 24/7 connectivity to the world, we think that every request we get is very urgent. Especially if it comes from your boss or your client.
It became a norm nowadays to send work emails at 11 pm or even 2 am. And it signals something. It signals that if your boss is working at 11 pm, you should be working, too.
The most productive trick I found when managing a team is to delay my response to their emails. About 70% of the time people figure things out on their own. I swear. It works.
It baffles me when people pride themselves on how quickly they respond to emails. As if your response time has something to do with doing valuable work. The opposite is true. It robs you of your focus. Emails interrupt you every few minutes. How can you get anything valuable done if you are interrupted every 5 minutes?
In short, rethink the idea of urgency. Very few things are urgent. Even fewer things are truly important. When you are short on time and your to-do list never ends, ask yourself “Will the completion of this task affect my life in 5 years from now?”.
#3 Check you email during scheduled times.
Since very few things are truly urgent and important, the world will not end if you stop checking your email every 5 minutes.
A lot of people over-exaggerate their importance. They think if they don’t respond to an email within 10 minutes, something extremely bad will happen. Let me tell you, it won’t.
Schedule your inbox processing time. I usually have it scheduled twice a day. Never first thing in the morning. Because I want to focus on my most important task of the day in the morning.
What helped me reframe my attitude to email checking is understanding what it truly means. When you check your email, you are spending your time, your brain power responding to someone else’s priorities. Very rare it is about YOUR priorities. Someone else needs something from you, so they demand your time and attention by sending you that email.
That’s why I advocate for spending your time and attention on your priorities first before checking everyone else’s. Be selfish. Focus on improving your life first, before giving your attention to everyone else. I find that you can get your most important tasks done in the morning and then spend an afternoon in meetings, emails, and other administrative tasks.
#4 Have a backlog of ideas and tasks.
This is something that truly transformed my life.
Have a list of ideas, projects, tasks you want to do. All the things that sound exciting to you.
Then have a monthly process of picking ideas, projects, tasks you want to focus during the next month. And then commit to the selected few for the duration of your sprint. Under the Monthly Method, a sprint is 3 weeks.
You go full force on a selected number of projects. And you also know that any project you put on the list can be selected next.
To learn more about product backlog, click here.
#5 Work on your mindset daily.
What causes drama, overwhelm, and anxiety is our thinking.
Embrace daily journaling. Journaling is not the same as a diary. Journal from your future. Journal to create the right mindset to achieve your goals.
Write down your top 3 tasks for the day. Then ask yourself what thoughts you should be thinking to make acting on these goals easier?
Write down the thoughts you should be thinking. Practice thinking them throughout the day and I promise, acting on your goals will be 10 times easier.
You can learn about my journalling practice here.***
#6 Go analog.
If you feel overwhelmed, my advice to you is to embrace all things analog.
Analog writing tools, analog planning tools, analog communication.
Technology is great but it comes with one major downside. It has no limits, therefore you are never done.
If you write your to-do list on a piece of paper, there is a physical limit on how many things you can put on the list.
When you are reading an analog book, there is a limit on the distractions you can have during your reading time. There are no links you can click. There is a limit on pages, so you can always feel the end approaching.
We can always hide behind optimizing our digital tools. I was guilty of that.
- What is the best scheduling app?
- What is the best to-do app?
- Let me watch a YouTube review on this productivity tool.
- Ok, let me see what other tools these youtubers are using.
You get into this rabbit hole of optimizing your digital tools. And believe me, there is always a new tool or app that was released recently. It is a full time job to keep track.
Think about it.. How did Einstein, Darwin, Michelangelo get their job done? All they had were analog tools. And it was enough.
#7 Think by walking.
This is my favourite. I do a lot of my thinking during my daily walks. I’m so glad last year gave me the gift of walking. On average, I walk 13,000 steps a day. That’s when I do most of my thinking.
I create podcast ideas and outlines.
I plan my day. I think about my future.
The best ideas are the ones that come from walking. There is something dynamic about them. When you sit and force yourself to be creative, you often end up recycling the same ideas over and over. Something that has been heard a million times before.
But when you walk, your ideas are more dynamic and alive. They merge, they dance, they change colours. It is a lot easier to come up with something new when you are moving.
I listen to podcasts that get me inspired. Then I pause them and spend some time thinking deeper about the issues discussed in those podcasts or audiobooks.
I always feel calm after a good walk. You can do a lot of creative work while walking. You don’t have to spend your days sitting at your desk. In fact, I strongly advise against it.
#8 Limit your consumption.
The less you consume, the more time, energy and brain power you have left to create.
Limit consumption of social media, news, tv shows. Be bored. You’ll discover that boredom is just the first step of being creative.
Limit your consumption if you want to have your own voice. If you want to create your own ideas instead of reciting the ideas of others.
Limit your consumption to avoid other people imposing their ideas and sales incentives on you.
Social media is designed to get you to spend more time on their platform. The more time you spend, the more ads they can show you. The more ads they show, the more stuff you’ll buy.
Limit your consumption if you want to make your own decisions and not be affected by social media algorithms. Turn off all social media notifications on your phone.
Stop watching Instagram stories. They use your fear of missing out to make you spend even more time on their platform. When was the last time you saw something valuable in someone’s Instagram story? Seriously? 99% of the time it’s someone’s cat, someone’s lunch or someone’s recent purchase. Your future does not depend on you seeing that.
Limit your consumption of news. Their business model depends on creating drama out of every single event. Without the drama, no one will click on their links. Understand their business model and refuse to participate in it. The less demand these click-bait news sites get, the faster they will disappear and the real fact-based journalism will take place.
#9 Have fixed working hours.
When you have fixed working hours, you focus on the most important tasks. Not all tasks matter equally. And when you have 3 hours to get 10 things done, you do the tasks that bring the most value. When you have unlimited time, you do the tasks that are the easiest to do. See the difference?
Plus, by having fixed working hours you have enough time to focus on your health and key relationships.
#10 Don’t obsess over what your competitors are doing.
The most successful and innovative people I know don’t know what their competitors are doing. They don’t follow the news. They don’t check linkedIn for updates.
They just do what they think they should do.
They realize that most likely the true disruption will not come from their direct competitor. They look at other industries for inspiration.
If you focus on your competition, you will end up producing very similar products to your competitors. Plus, you’ll always be feeling the need to catch up, to win, to dominate.
If instead you focus on being inspired every single day by people and companies outside your industry, you end up creating products and offerings that none of your competitors could predict.
The purpose of a goal is to orient yourself in the present.
Don’t create the drama around your goals. Don’t fixate too much on your long-term goals. They are to give you a direction of where to go and which things to say yes to.
Make yourself proud every day. Celebrate small wins. And remember, there is no happy ending to a miserable journey.
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