- It takes longer than we thought
- It’s more difficult than we thought
- We have other things to do
- We don’t get the expected reward
- We declare victory too soon
- We have to do it forever
At the risk of gross oversimplification, there were five Greek philosophies of happiness.
- Socrates – only the poor, those who have nothing to lose, can be happy.
- Aristotle – you have to be born rich to be happy (in reality healthy, wealthy, good family, good friends). Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics introduced the good life.
- Epicurus – remove all causes of pain to be happy (don’t spend time with irritating people or doing annoying things). “Pleasure is the absence of suffering”.
- Stoicism – life is about suffering. Happiness is to accept the obstacles with serenity. Stoicism was founded by Zeno of Citium.
- Hedonism – happiness is spending time doing what gives you pleasure. The basic idea behind hedonistic thought is that pleasure is the only thing that has intrinsic value.
In reality, the ancient greeks had no word that exactly matches our current word “happiness”. The closest term from their language was Eudaimonia. Aristotle says that eudaimonia means ’doing and living well’. What is interesting to me is that I view happiness as a state – but the greeks had no word that represented a steady-state happiness – only an active form of happiness that required behaviours in line with a set of virtues.
Some useful resources:
- Psychology Today article on The Pursuit of Happiness
- Gretchin Rubin on The Happiness Project Modern readings on happiness, Classic reading on happiness
- The 90/10 rule – how to mess up a perfectly good day
- My most-visited-ever blog post 17 daily habits for a fulfilling life
- Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics at Google Books
Productivity put simple. This is a guest post by Dimitri Uralov, a Barcelona based entrepreneur and financial coach.
When Conor offered me the chance to write a post on time management for this blog, we laughed as I commented that most people would probably find the truth about productivity too simple.
“Most people would probably find the truth about productivity too simple”
I am interested in time management. I spend a lot of time reading books on the topic, testing new systems and methods and trying the latest software. Invariably, I always come back to the same simple principle that has been guiding my productive life for the last several years.
Here it is. Productivity boils down to one simple thing: your capacity to do the most important, and only the most important, and to stick with it until it’s done. Time management tools and strategies are useful, but always secondary.
Our time is limited and we will never accomplish everything that we and others put on our plate. The only question is whether what we choose to do takes us closer to our goals and allows us to make a difference or not.
The only thing you need to know about time management.
I can only really accomplish what really matters if I spend most of my time working on the most important tasks. If I’m doing something else, no matter what I choose to do (and what software or system I’m using for it), it will relatively be a waste. (Conor has a good post that distinguishes great work vs bad work).
What are these most important things? I don’t think you need help with answering this question. It doesn’t matter whether you’re using the Eisenhower matrix, the ABC method of setting priorities or simply your gut feel. We all happen to know what our most important tasks are.
The real problem is that these most important tasks are usually the most difficult and least “attractive” items on our agenda. They require time, effort and getting out of our comfort zone. So, humans as we are, we consciously or unconsciously choose to keep ourselves busy with other less important yet so much easier stuff.
I remember the first time I realized how powerful this “just-do-the-most-important” principle was. About two years ago, when I was working in a family office, my boss had a conversation with me. He was kind but honest. He complained about my productivity. He said it took me too much time to finish important projects. He didn’t know what I was doing, but he knew he didn’t like the results.
That came quite unexpected for me. At that time I considered myself to be a very good worker. I was always busy doing things. I was staying late to do more. I had my to-do lists all over the place. I would answer all e-mails and return all telephone calls quickly. I was up-to-date with everything happening on the markets. I was available and ready to help others. However, my boss felt that I was not achieving much.
So I decided to reassess the way I was working. I tracked my time and took records of my activities. Soon it became very obvious that most of my day was spent on unimportant stuff, such as answering e-mails or reading investment articles. Meanwhile, the important stuff was sitting on my desk and in my to-do lists, waiting to be dealt with.
Eat that Frog.
Having realized I was always postponing the most important, I made a strong decision to change my working habits. Every morning I would arrive to the office, make a list using the ABC method, and then go directly to my most important task, the A1, resolving to do nothing else until it was completed. I would then go to A2, then A3 and so on.
As I adopted this simple productivity rule, my results changed completely. Difficult projects and tasks that used to take weeks were now done in days. I felt more energetic and motivated. For the first time I would have moments when all items on my to-do list were ticked. Eventually I would accomplish most of the tasks for the week in only 3 or 4 hours on Monday morning. The change was so amazing, that I even started to share my insights with other people.
Today, as an entrepreneur, the productivity issue has become more important than ever for me. To be honest, I sometimes find it quite difficult to control myself and keep focused. If there’s something good in having a boss, it is that you have someone who can warn you when your productivity has gone low.
Therefore, whenever I feel stuck among all the things I have to do, I go back to the same simple principle that has proved to work so well – I start doing the important things, and only the important things.
I grab a sheet of paper and write down my two or three most important tasks for the day. Yes, those that are usually also the most difficult and uncomfortable. I allow myself to forget about everything else, and then I focus on getting these two-three things done.
Once you eat a frog, nothing worse can happen in the day.
Sometimes it takes me the whole day to accomplish just one of these tasks. But I’ve discovered that I don’t really feel bad about it. I feel calm, concentrated and productive. I’m doing the right thing, the one that matters most. It is the best use of my time, and there’s nothing that can be compared to that feeling of fulfillment when it’s finally done.
I’ve also discovered that every time I concentrate my effort on the most important, the unimportant stuff takes care of itself. Problems solve themselves in my absence. I get less e-mail in my inbox. The phone is silent. Life flows.
And usually, if I manage to keep myself focused and avoid distractions, I end up doing much more than I would expect. It seems that things do not always take as much time as we think, especially those that initially look so big and difficult.
Therefore, the next time you feel tempted to test the next revolutionary time management system, think again whether you really need to overcomplicate it. Get back to the basics and ask yourself a simple question:
Are you inventing things to do to avoid doing the important and only the important? (A good reminder from Brian Tracy)
I recognize that even when we know what we have to do, it is not always easy to stay focused and avoid distractions. I personally find it to be the most difficult part of the “art of productivity”. For that reason, in my next post I will share some of the tips that have proven most effective for me.
In the meanwhile, could you share your experience and insights on simple productivity in the comments? What do you do to manage your time better?
I had two conversations yesterday, first with Dimitri in Starbucks then later with my friend Al (his blog on improving web conversion) on the telephone where we spoke about how goals can actually damage effectiveness.
- Wanting too much = desperation = we push people away.
- Not wanting at all = we say no = people want us more.
An example of wanting too much…
I have always been “an entrepreneur who teaches”. In the past I have always said no to any teaching that doesn’t work for me – and to any changes to my course that I am not fully happy with. This year, entrepreneurial activity a little low – I decide to focus more on teaching.
In redefining my role as primarily “a teacher who is also an entrepreneur”, my ego gets involved in the teaching. It is now important to me that the course goes ahead and that I get to teach. I say yes to changes in the course for MBAs. I go ahead with course even though it was moved to another term, reduced in length and the extensive practical sessions with collaborator were cancelled. The result: the course was poor – for myself (overwhelmed) and for students (missed structure and practice sessions).
An example of the power of not wanting…
My younger brother arrived in Australia 3 years ago. He joined a gym. A friend told him “you must get Blake as your personal trainer”. My brother approached Blake and asked “would you be my trainer?”. Blake said “No.” A couple of weeks later, the friend said “so, are you working with Blake” “No”. “Why not? You must work with Blake. Go and ask him again.”
My brother returned and asked Blake “I would really like to train with you. Could we just do one session?” Blake responded “look, I only work with the best. I don’t believe that you are committed enough.”
A moment later Blake said “look I have a free slot next week. It is 5am on Tuesday morning. One minute late and I’ll know you’re not committed.” For 3 years, my brother was at the gym at 4:45 Tuesday and Thursday mornings. He has run several traithlons since starting training with Blake.
Tony Nadal, coach to Rafa, has never received a salary from Rafael. When asked why he said “I am his coach. I need to be able to tell him difficult things. This would be compromised if I depended on him for my pay”. (IESE Business School has an interesting case: Rafa Nadal: The Champion and the Person).
So here I am with a dilemma: I don’t believe you achieve anything of importance without setting goals, but publicly stated goals can drive “desperation” behaviour – saying yes to clients that you shouldn’t accept, to work that you shouldn’t be doing, to changes that you would not allow if you were not desperate to show progress. What is to be done?
I was in the coffee bar at IESE Business school some weeks ago. I overheard the conversation: “I’ll join the public speaking club in the 2nd year, it will be less crazy and I will have more time”.
Seth Godin tells us that every 18 months for the last decade, the world has doubled the data it pushes to you. Twice as much email, twice as many friend requests, twice as many sites to check, twice as many devices. When does your mind lose the ability to keep up? Then what happens? Is it already happening?
I believe that the feeling of being “overwhelmed” is not really due to the external circumstances, but our own reaction to those circumstances. Scott Belsky, the founder of Behance (a set of productivity tools for creatives) has a couple of ideas that I think can make a difference in an overwhelming world.
- Create windows of non-stimulation – Create periods where your put a stop to the flow of incoming emails, calls, conversations, noise, TV. The author of Good to Great, Jim Collins does not allow any electronic device in the same room as him before midday. Turn off mobiles, computers and hear your own thoughts once or twice a week.
- Divide actionable from non-actionable items. Keep separate ideas and actions in your notebook (you do have a notebook). Each action step should start with a verb “call A”, “buy a gift for B”, “follow up contract with C”.
- Bias to action. In the absence of conviction or clarity, do something. Don’t wait. I think all self help books ever written can be summarized as follows:
- Write your goals down.
- Start at number 1.
- Do it now.
Step three is the big diferentiator.
Another interesting note on Jim Collins – he has three big life goals defined for himself. He always carries 3 stopwatches. When he is working on one of the 3 important goals, he sets the stopwatch in motion. When he stops, he stops the watch. He tracks daily, weekly and monthly how he is doing at dedicating time to what is important for him (PS email responding is not one of his goals). A nice quote from Jim: “Don’t confuse activity with productivity.”
If you read one business book in your life, make it “Good to Great“.
On Friday I heard a story about values and the importance of not just accepting other’s value systems without ensuring they are right for me.
I remember reading a book on psychotherapy and the “pathological critic” (Self-Esteem by McKay and Fanning) that described four criteria to evaluate my personal values that allow me to check whether my own values are “healthy”.
- Flexible – healthy values allow for exceptions and accept room for some mistakes in the process of learning new things. Unhealthy values often include the ideas never, always, all, totally, perfectly – which are likely to end up creating feelings of worthlessness. “I should never make mistakes” might sound like a worthy ambition, but is likely to generate stress in all but the most safe situations.
- Owned – healthy values are owned: critically examined and right for me. Unhealthy values are inherited without critically determining if they are right for my personality, needs and circumstances. They are often our parent’s values that we have accepted as valid without a process of checking whether they are right for my life.
- Realistic – healthy values are oriented to outcomes. Unhealthy values are absolute and global, prescribing behaviour because it is morally “good” or “right”. “A good parent keeps their children safe from danger” is unhealthy – there will be situations where the parent has little control over the situation eg bullying at school, underperfomance in sports.
- Life enhancing – healthy values do not diminish or narrow me as a person – they allow pursuit of areas that are positive, nourishing, supportive to my needs. Unhealthy values are life restricting – “I must always be happy and positive” is not life enhancing – it denies that there will be moments that I am sad, frustrated or angry – and it is restrictive to deny my full range of emotions.
There are only three types of work:
- Bad work
- Good work
- Great work
I think you probably know what sits in each of these categories.
Bad work is pointless. It is a waste of time. It is the basis of Dilbert cartoons. Sadly, most organisations are superb at creating bad work: bureaucracy, meetings to plan other meetings, outdated processes that bear no relation to what customers require.
Good work is the bread and butter, the stuff you do well, you are trained to do. It is comfortable and you probably do it well. Good work is necessary and there will always be some in your life.
Great work is the work that matters. It is meaningful to you, has an impact and makes a difference. It can be enjoyable, but it can also be quite uncomfortable. It is new and challenging so there exists a possibility of failure.
The answer is not to stop everything and focus only on great work. I was reading the Changethis.com manifesto “Stop the Busywork: 7 counter-intuitive ways to find more time, space and courage to do more Great work” by Michael Bungay Stenier. His years of experience coaching people suggest that most people lie in the range of:
- 10-40% Bad work
- 40-80% Good work
- 0-25% Great work
Michael suggests an exercise: You draw a large circle on a page and create your own work pie chart – how much of what you do is bad, good and great? What sorts of things fit into good and great? What is in the great category that is also of immediate and strategic value to your company?
He says [2:30] “Think for a moment that I granted you the right to buy 10% of the future income of any one of your classmates for the rest of his or her lifetime. You can’t pick one with a rich father, that doesn’t count. You got to pick someone who is going to do it on their own merit. Which one are you going to pick?”
Imagine 100 of your colleagues, family, friends. Who would you choose? Are there two or three faces that come to mind? Maybe if you are lucky with your friends, 10 or 15 jump into your mind. But, you have to choose one.
Warren suggests that there are various methods to do the final selection. Would you use school or university grades? GMAT? Most likely not. These are not great indicators of success in life.
If not grades then what? How about your best friend? Set up a pact – “I’ll choose you if you choose me”. A good plan? I don’t think so.
So, if grades aren’t the criteria; If friendship isn’t the criteria; then what should be your criteria for selecting the person to place your bet on?
Warren says that he has 3 criteria:
- Integrity – coherence between values and words, words and actions; responds well in bad times as well as the easy times.
- Energy – gets up every day and starts moving.
- Intelligence – here, Warren clarifies that he is not looking for grand strategic planning type intelligence; not for chess type intelligence – but for a type of course correction intelligence that allows for small course corrections that mean that instead of running headlong into a brick wall, there is enough intelligence to change course and only receive a glancing blow to the shoulder.
A good basis for selection? Do you know who you would bet on? Would it be yourself? You already own 100% of your own future income… are you a good bet? In a future blog I will give three ideas to improve your energy, intelligence and ability to live your values. Interested?
I was on the Air Europa flight back from Madrid sat with JC Duarte and Manuel Vidal-Quadras. At a certain point we watched as JC pulled up an impressive iPhone application that allows him to track his time. This led to a discussion about how to be effective with time. I feel that I am not effective with my time and can easily waste hours on the unimportant (facebook, searching for information on Wikipedia and reading 10 other interesting but not directly relevant web pages). I do however, tend to be good at achieving my goals. I know I could be a lot more effective, but keep myself to aim to achieve 3 important things each day.
I took some time to think about how I manage myself to achieve goals. I am interested in others’ strategys and tactics to effectively achieve the important things in their lives.
- Daydream & Visualise Benefits: I imagine myself in the future having accomplished the goal. I try to write a few words about this image. My top priority goal this year is write a book. I can see it available in all those airport bookshops that I pass on my travels. I am too good at this bit and can sometimes end up living in a future, better world rather than being truly present in the here and now.
- Be Realistic: This is where I need to work harder. I find it easy to imagine the benefits and to be optimistic about achieving them, but hard to be realistic about the obstacles that stand in the way; and getting down to systematically overcome these obstacles. I write two significant obstacles that will make it difficult to achieve the goal. Writing a book is a lonely process – I decided that I need to write 1000 words every day – and publish a blog post about once a week.
- Brainstorm: How can I overcome these obstacles? The benefits can only come about if I am serious about overcoming the obstacles. Is there a way to minimise the obstacles? How would someone else overcome these obstacles? If I can’t see how to overcome the obstacles I think it is better that I admit that I am not going to achieve the goal. I am not good at this. I want to believe I can be great at everything.
- Action plan: 9 years of Accenture means I can do this in my sleep. Break the goal down into actions – list the actions. Establish rewards for achieving significant progress points along the list of actions. Set dates. Write it down. I like the feeling of crossing out actions as I complete them (
like this). No online tool has ever given me the same satisfaction as a big blue line drawn through the text on the page. I have hired a coach to help me with the book. We have worked on a list of chapters – completing chapters is easier than completing the whole book in one go.
- Start: Just a few minutes right now.
- Public Commitment: I tell people that I will accomplish a goal. I just told you that I will write a book. I also want to give a speach to an audience of 5000 people one day. I want to take my daughter to Disneyland (haven’t decided Paris or Florida). I tell different people for different goals. I have some sports/fitness friends and they know that I will run a sprint triathlon this year. It would be better if I was able to let them know about the obstacles and how they could help (sometimes with a simple “come on man”; the swim is the big challenge for me in the triathlon). I attach a date to when I mean to achieve the goal. June 6 is the sprint triathlon. August is the book. I need to decide what is the best age for my daughter’s first Disney experience…
My current list of life goals is on the right panel of this blog.