The title of this blog comes from a session in a course that Professor Paris de l’Etraz teaches about Life. I met Paris at a dinner in Madrid 4 years ago hosted by another inspiring teacher.
Stand in the Traffic: I love the simplicity of this life strategy.
Whatever you want in life, there are places where opportunities are flowing… and there are places where opportunities are not flowing. Abundant places… and stagnant places.
Stagnant: There are very few opportunities passing the person sitting on their sofa watching Netflix.
Abundant: There are many more opportunities passing the person out there in the world engaged in conversation… on a university campus, in industry conferences, in associations, online via youtube and blogs and writing articles.
If you have any idea what you are looking for…
If you have any idea about the types of things that you want to come into your life, the next step is to ask yourself “Where is the traffic?” Where are relevant people, resources, ideas, activity flowing?
Go stand there.
Put yourself where opportunity will pass you by.
If you are at an industry event and it is coffee break time, where do you stand?
If you stand by the wall with your mobile phone in front of you… you are not “in the traffic”.
If you stand by the coffee machines or the food service area, all the traffic will pass by you.
If you know how to smile and ask a few questions “hey, how are you doing? what brings you here? what has impressed you so far?”… now you can engage with the traffic.
The graph below gives one particular view of the level of productivity per hour for the world’s countries. Mexico works lots of hours with little output, whilst Luxembourg work little hours with very high productivity.
The horizontal axis represents annual hours worked and the vertical axis represents annual GDP per capita in U.S. dollars.
Shades of blue represented relatively high worker productivity while shades of red represent relatively lower worker productivity. Worker productivity is calculated by dividing annual GDP per capita by annual hours worked, which yields productivity per hour worked.
My first comment would be that there is a bit of a flaw in how this graph is put together. Productivity is divided by hours worked, so there is going to be a mathematical effect that showing higher productivity where cultures encourage people to get out of the office quickly. The graph is still interesting 😉
First understand the do-or-die importance of focus.
“If you don’t learn to focus, you will have a shallow and unrewarding life without any meaningful achievements.” Derek Sivers
That is worth repeating.
“A shallow and unrewarding life.”
You Need to Learn to Focus
So make it a priority.
Yes it’s hard. The world is designed to distract you. Facebook is a research laboratory focussed on human distraction. They invest billions and are excellent at their work. When facebook slip up, hard on their tails come Apple, apps, youtube, caffeine, bored friends, problematic neighbours and general office bullshit.
Apps are designed to be as addictive as possible.
Assume you are dealing with crack cocaine. If you can see it, you will use it. If you can hear it, you will use it. Willpower is not going to get you through this.
There are many reasons why we delay work. I think the most insidious is that I have a belief that the person I will be in future will be better than the person who I am today. I have a consistent inner belief that I will be smarter, better, faster in the future. The work that is hard today will somehow become easier for the better future me. But, what if’s not? I will only be better in future if I do the hard work of pushing through distractions today.
Who is Good at Focus?
I have spent a lot of time interviewing high performance athletes. My goal was to understand their motivations, how they train, how they prepare mentally, and how they face anxiety. These successful athletes have an ability to focus on the one next step and, in the words of Nike, Just do it!
Josef Ajram, one of Spain’s top endurance athletes, tells himself “I will run another 15 minutes. Come on. Anyone can run another 15 minutes.” In Josef Ajram’s words, he has completed the Marathon de Sables – 243km across the Sahara desert in 6 days – by only ever allowing himself to think about the next 15 minutes.
How to Learn Focus?
Use The Pomodoro* Method.
Here are my simplified instructions for following the Pomodoro method.
Pick a specific project you would like to work on. For example “Write a blog post on focus”.
Set a timer for 20 minutes
Work only on this project until the timer stops. Stop completely no matter where you are when you hear the timer. Mid sentence is excellent (it makes it easier to re-start this work later).
Count how many timers you can complete in a day. I bet you will not complete one single complete timer the first day you begin this habit. I didn’t.
*Any interruption*, you must reset the timer to 20 minutes.
If you need a drink of water, go get the water, then reset the timer.
If you need the bathroom, go, then reset the timer.
If you must check wikipedia to find out a fact, check wikipedia, then reset the timer. (better… resist the need to check facts now, and use a future timer to work on the project “research focus and collect sources”)
If you must respond to a phone alert, respond, reset the timer.
I think you get the idea. Only by working on 1, and only 1 project for the full 20 minutes = you get to count it as 1 timer.
* You can find the original Pomodoro Method described here: Pomodoro Method.
Do you plan your days, or do your days run as a reaction to what pops up? In Washington DC, one of our EO leaders at the EO Leadership Academy was Christoph Magnussen – here in this he shares a tip we learnt about how to take control of your day.
This is a lesson that was shared with the group by Warren Rustand. Warren Rustand was a White House scholar back in the 1970s and spent 4 years as the appointments secretary to President Gerald Ford. This meant that for 4 years, he controlled how President Ford spent his time.
In a 1954 speech to the Second Assembly of the World Council of Churches, former U.S. President Eisenhower said: “I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”
The image to the right shows a 2×2 matrix using the two axis of Important and Urgent. This gives us 4 types of task:
Urgent & Important
Urgent & Not Important
Important & Not Urgent
Not Urgent & Not Important
In an un-disciplined person, category 2 tends to be completed before category 3. In a disciplined person, category 3 is completed before touching category 2.
Success is rarely Urgent
Jim Rohn gives one of the most powerful definitions of success:
“Failure is a few bad decisions repeated every day. Success is a few simple good habits practiced every day” Jim Rohn
There is a saying “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”. Health success is an apple a day. Failure is a donut instead of an apple each day. You can say “what difference does 1 donut make?” You won’t notice the damage today, you won’t notice tomorrow… but over a year: a donut a day starts to extract a price.
The urgent is often the result of avoiding the important.
By the time the painkillers are needed, it is too late for the vitamins.
Vitamins are important.
Practice Saying “No”
If you wish to spend more of your life on the important things, and less on the urgent things, there is a tool…
Warren Buffett’s definition of integrity: “you say No to most things”. If you are not saying No to most things, you are dividing your life up into millions of little pieces that are being given to other people’s priorities.
Learn to say “No”…
…without the word “no”.
The most powerful ways to say “no” do not involve the actual word “no”.
Another is to raise the cost of your “Yes”: If someone wants to meet for coffee, I say “yeah sure, I am free on Friday at 7am at my office in Sabadell [25 mlles away]”. If the person still wants to meet then it must be important. 90% end up not following up. The few that do, will come prepared and have done their research. They know what they want from me. They know whether it is worth their time.
Celebrities and Politicians have entire staffs dedicated to restricting access. Bono, the singer of U2, has 25 people who review requests for his time, his money, his attention in order to allow only the important requests to reach Bono himself. Barrack Obama has a whole White House staff whose mission is to ensure that he only spends time and energy on important things, that only he can deal with.
If you don’t start developing methods of saying “no” now, it will only get harder as you become wealthier, wiser, more famous, more experienced and more resourceful.
What urgent task will you say “No” to today?
Some other great posts on Robert Glazer’s blog Friday Forward:
I have learned 3 things about getting good work done:
There is no magic app: My lack of productivity was never down to a missing app, or not implementing Dave Allen’s GTD system correctly, or not having the right colour pens and post-it notes. I have everything I need to be productive with a keyboard and a text editor (I write).
Willpower is weak: I have good willpower days (few) and bad willpower days (many). Willpower depends on a good nights sleep, an absence of urgent messes to deal with, nobody letting me down and the Irish rugby team delivering a stunning performance. These days are rare, and the likely self-flagellation and frustration from feeling like I am an especially lazy human being are very painful. Willpower doesn’t work over the long term.
Triggers matter: Instead of storing my good intentions inside my head, I write them down and put them around me. Instead of waiting for motivation, I have a list of people to call who will leave me inspired after 5 minutes of conversation. Instead of rethinking every day why I do this, I have a 1 page description of why my work matters. I write blog posts when I see my blog window open. I write in my notebook when I see it with a pen next to it on my desk.
I wrote a long series of posts on Productivity back in early 2014, with a tongue-in-cheek inspiration from my favourite childhood movie. Here’s the full list of posts.
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