How the low-information diet can triple your productivity in 24 hours.

Put a stop to unhealthy growth

Everyday we dream about our goals. We chase growth in line with our ambitions – a  promotion or a 10% increase in clients per month. We readily take on more work but rarely think about the consequences of doing so, until circumstances such as, overwhelming workloads, force us to. The issue is, we are so focused on obtaining growth that we pay little attention to the scalability of our present behaviours and processes. Can we respond to 1000 emails as easily as 100? No. How long until a permanent back log of unanswered and unread emails becomes our norm? Very quickly we go from being on top of our workload to constantly fighting to keep our head above it. It doesn’t make for a happy work or productive work life, that’s for sure.

Infobesity and unhealthy growth

For Tim Ferriss, author of four hour work week, breaking point hit him four years after becoming founder and CEO of his highflying Silicon Valley firm. After four years of clocking 7am – 9pm hours, 7 days a week and responding to 1,500 emails per week he concluded that he could no longer fight his overwhelming workload in this way. His role was increasingly growing and his processes and routines were 100% unscalable, in fact they were barely making a dent in his work. His behaviours needed to change because he physically couldn’t log anymore hours. In light of the increase in his demand but hindered ability to supply Ferriss conducted an experiment. For the past four years Ferriss had chained himself to his desk, increased his hours but still felt he was drowning in work this time he decided to do the complete opposite.

The low-information diet

Ferriss decided to leave his office and work remotely from 20 countries all over the world. His one golden rule was that he could only check e-mail once a week, for 15 months. What happened? In short by embracing what he calls the “low-information diet” Ferriss defied the logic of excessive working cultures. His business did not fail, it thrived. In the first month alone, Ferriss saw an increase in his profits by 30%.

Why?

During his time away, Ferriss identified the biggest, and most time consuming pitfalls of the modern worker;

1. We are information gluttons

The biggest downfall of individuals (and firms) is not clearly defining objectives. If you don’t define your goals clearly, everything seems important, and you attempt to assimilate all of the information thrown your way on a daily basis. Not only is this incredibly exhausting but it’s entirely inefficient, especially if a large portion of this information is irrelevant to your critical goals.

2. We are innate people pleasers

Trying to make everyone happy – besides being impossible – is the surest way to make yourself miserable. You should not be sacrificing your quality of work for the sake of quantity, especially if you want to obtain long-term clients. Turning away work may initially not be a popular decision but you will be far more unpopular, in the long run, if you produce low quality work – even just once!

Steps to achieve the low-information diet

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man”.

In a bid to stop wasting time on things that didn’t pertain to his overall goals Ferriss applied the following 3 steps to his work. In doing so he managed to increase his efficiency by 30%, increase his companies bottom line and achieve a healthy work-life-balance.

If you constantly feel overwhelmed by a mountain of increasing work, then arguably it’s time to change your processes too.

Step 1 Decrease frequency

In 2005, King’s College, London conducted a study to explore the differentiation in IQ between one group of candidates high on marijuana and another group distracted by e-mail and ringing phones. By an average of 6 points the e-mailers did worse than the stoners.

Why? Interruptions cause a psychological uprooting to focus. Once interrupted it takes the brain up to 45 minutes to regain concentration and resume the original task. More than a quarter of each 9-5 period (28% or 134.4 minutes) is consumed by such interruptions, and 40% of people interrupted go on to a new task without finishing the task that was interrupted. This is how we end up with 20 windows open on our computers and nothing completed at 5pm.

Multi-tasking is a fool’s plan. It never worked and never will. It not only breeds inefficiency but also puts you at certain risk of cognitive impairments.

Excellent ways to decrease frequency are;

  1. Batching

Batching is scheduling the completion of time-consuming but necessary tasks at set times, as infrequently as possible. This can be done with everything from e-mails – bills. For example, Ferriss recommends only checking your email twice per day. Once at 12 noon, and again at 4pm. Obviously, this is subject to your career and it’s demands but do remember that responding to emails throughout the working day is wasteful of your time. You become distracted, it takes you longer to complete tasks that you are distracted from (in some cases you leave them incomplete) and it is inevitable you will be interrupted by a significantly less important email than the present task you are attempting to action.

Step 2 – Decrease volume

You do not need to respond to every e-mail. In line with the belief that we people please at our own expense Ferriss recommends the following strategic choices for a more efficient mailbox

1. Set expectations so you don’t have to respond to non question emails (or just don’t respond).

Ferriss recommends adding an explanatory sentence to your auto responder that reads “if your email doesn’t contain a question that requires a response, please don’t be offended if I don’t reply with an e-mail. This is to keep back-and-forth a minimum for both of us! Please feel free to call my phone if you need a confirmation or anything else.

2. If you ask a question, include “if then” instructions to prevent back-and-forth.

For example, “Dear John, have the presentation papers arrived? If so please give them to… if not please contact Sally on 555-555.” This maximises efficiency and eliminates most follow up questions. Get into the habit of considering what “if..then” can be used in any email where you ask a question.

Step 3 – Increase speed

With the use of science, you can increase your reading speed by at least 200%. Reading isn’t a linear process but a series of jumps (saccades) and independent snapshots (fixations). Reading speed increases, to the extent, that you reduce the number and duration of fixations, per line. That is the science of speed reading in once sentence. Below is a explanatory diagram from Ferriss.

Speed reading explained for the low information diet

 

We are subjected to an overwhelming and increasing amount of daily distractions. Learn to recognise and fight the information impulse. Most of the interruptions stop us from progressing more important tasks. Having a set of rules and routines to follow helps keep you away from distractions. This is what the low-information diet seeks to achieve. Focus on being productive rather than busy – your life will change for the better.

Whilst some of Ferriss’ suggestions may seem too wild for your workplace. It should be remembered that without change everything remains the same… if you’re suffering from increasing workloads and decreasing hours, than it’s certainly time to change your processes.

Check out more stuff from Tim Ferriss here

 

Why we don’t all have one true calling: embrace your inner multipotentialite

The notion of following one life path is romanticised in our culture. We like to believe that we each have one great thing to achieve during our lives. We rush to find our thing or niche, so that we can dedicate our lives to becoming the best at it. We are asked throughout our childhood what we want to be when we grow up. What one career path will we devote our life to?

But what if you’re not a person who works this way. What if you have eclectic taste’s and you can’t put your interests into one box? Does this mean you have no purpose? Is there something wrong with you? The answer is no, argues Emilie Wapnick “What you are is a multipotentialite.” Multi-potential-ite is a term coined by Wapnick to denote individuals with many interests and creative pursuits. Another term that connotes the same idea is the “Renaissance person” – as during the Renaissance period it was considered ideal to be well-versed in multiple disciplines however somewhere along the way this notion was forgotten…

Wapnick set up her online community puttylike.com to encourage others to embrace their varied career interests. “It’s easy for people to see their multipotentialite traits as a limitation or an affliction that needs to be overcome” explains Wapnick, however this notion is outdated and arguably ignores the valuable multipotenialite contribution to society. Steve jobs defined creativity as “connecting things.” He said however that creativity in today’s society is limited. Most people don’t have enough dots to connect because they lack diverse experiences due to societies obsession with becoming specialists. In other words, without the multipotentialite drawing across their wide range of experience to create new ideas – we are left without innovators.

Wapnick in her compelling Ted Talk further explores the value of the multipotentialite and defines the “3 superpowers of the mulitopotentalite”.

Superpower number 1: Idea Synthesis

As identified by Steve Jobbs, innovation happens when two or more fields collide and multipotentialites, with their versatile backgrounds have access to these crucial points of intersection.

Superpower number 2: Rapid learning.

When multipotenialites become interested in something they embark on a voyage of discovery and seek to learn everything there is to know about their new curiosity. Multipotenialites are comfortable with being a beginner because they have been beginners so many times in the past. This makes them less afraid of trying new things and stepping out of their comfort zones. Further, as they are well-versed at turning their hands to new trades multipotenialites are masters at transfering skills from past disciplines to aid their learning of a new field.

Superpower number 3: Adaptability

This is the ability to morph into whatever the situation requires. Mulitpotentialites believe that their skills potential are unlimited. This mind-frame allows them to take on any circumstance with conviction and practically apply skills learnt throughout their mulipotentialite journey.

Arguably, we should all be aligning our lives and careers with how we are wired. If there is one thing to take away from this blog – embrace your inner wiring, whatever that may be. If you’re a specialist at heart than specialise. If you are a mulitpotenialite – embrace your many passions, follow your curiosities and discover valuable intersections. Being true to your inner wiring leads to a happier, more authentic life.

To read more about multipotentialites click here

Watch Emilile Wapnick’s TED talk here

Image curtesy of Sunny Studio on Shutterstock 

 

 

Stoicism for the modern entrepreneur: What we can learn from the pioneers of emotional intelligence

“What really frightens and dismays us is not external events themselves, but the way in which we think about them. It is not things that disturb us, but our interpretation of their significance.”

Picture of a man philosophising and considering stoicism

Why Stoicism?

Stoicism focuses on the fact that they only thing truly good is an excellent mental state, identified with virtue and reason. The three roman stoics Seneca, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius offer a wide range of practical advice surrounding emotional awareness and how to achieve the unconquerable mind, nine of which are extracted for the purpose of this blog.

In essence the Stoics were pioneers of what today is often referred to as “emotional intelligence” – those skills that go beyond the specialist requirements of professional work but recognised as hugely influential to career success. At it’s core Stoicism can be broken down into three simple lessons

  1. How unpredictable the world is and how brief life is
  2. How to be steadfast, strong and in control of yourself
  3. The dissatisfaction that comes from impulse rather than logic

By focusing on these lessons it is not difficult to see how they are relevant to (and have inspired) many of today’s leaders. For example politicians, public figures and business leaders all retain unshakeable equanimity and this in turn increases their following – it makes them credible to the public and clients. Stoicism focuses on “internal administration” – the belief that life is all about perception and with the right frame of mind, you can take on anything. At its heart, it’s about controlling things within your remit, i.e your mental state and ignoring the rest.

By using a set of principles, such as Stoicism, to guide your work, you hold yourself accountable to your values –  you ensure decisions are made in line with your beliefs (rational) instead of impulsive, based on your mood (irrational). For example, deciding to procrastinate is an irrational thought however if we consider why we are doing a piece of work, i.e. to reach a career goal, we are far more likely to progress that task.

9 lessons from Stoicism

 1 – Keep the view from above

Quite literally, always strive to be objective. In Stoicism this is explained as a double strategy – firstly, use suspicion towards our own senses and judgements and then  exercise sympathy towards the intention of others – or at the very least first try to see things from their perspective and not ours. These two simple strategies were the birth of emotional intelligence in Western practice!

2 – Acknowledge that all emotions come from within

In the words of Marcus Aurelius “Today I escaped anxiety. Nor no, I discarded It, because it was within me, in my own perceptions –“. Always remember, there are plenty of situations you cannot control in life, but one thing you can control is how you respond to those situations. It is not outside forces that makes us feel something, it’s our inner dialogue that generates those feelings – a blank canvas is not inherently stressful – it’s your thoughts that are stressing you out.

3 – Find a mentor

Find someone you respect, and use them to stay honest. A good mentor will keep you accountable to your goals especially if they are willing to ask you the hard questions about your decisions, that you won’t ask yourself.

4 – Recognise there is life after failure

We rarely get it right the first time but have enough conviction in your abilities to keep pushing on. Don’t let failure define your limits. The most successful embrace failure and use it as a medium for self improvement. No failure, no growth.

5 – Propel out of academia and practically apply your knowledge

Don’t just say you have read books. Show that through them, you have learnt to be a better person. The purpose of education is not just to internalise knowledge but ultimately to spark action and facilitate wiser decisions.

6 – Challenge yourself to be brutally honest

If you’re constantly procrastinating, you need to reflect on why. You might dislike your work. You might not feel it aligns with your overall goals or purpose. If this, or anything else you may be burying your head in the sand about, is the case, you need to be brutally honest about it and make the requisite changes otherwise you are just wasting your potential. When you feel resistance, use that as a cue to be introspective.

7 – Reflect on what you spend the most time on

Quite simply you’re better off not giving the small things more time than they deserve. Make a log of what you spend your daily time on. Do include things like scrolling on your Facebook newsfeed. Cut out the small things taking up more time then they require.

8 – Be present

Throughout your day, find a moment, however fleeting, to just sit and be still. This brain exercise, if practised, will help you to be ruthlessly present whilst you’re working. Without distractions, we produce better work, more efficiently. Sooner or later you will see how much this brain technique is an asset to your productivity and overall quality of life.

9 – Be aware that time is the most expensive commodity

“Not to live as if you had endless years ahead of you. Death overshadows you. While you’re alive and able — be good.” — Marcus Aurelius, Meditations.

In light of this – spend time on the things that matter to you. Hopefully by reading this blog and following the above principles you can ensure that happens.

For more information on Stoic principles for the modern worker read The Stoic: 9 Principles to Help You Keep Calm in Chaos by Paul Jun.

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