July Reading List

Suddenly, two months turns into eight. I don’t know how it happened but it did. I promise I’ve been reading though. Here are the previous reading lists:

October reading list

August reading list

Onto the current books…

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

Cal writes a blog over called Study Hacks over at calnewport.com and I’ve been following his work for a few years. Over the past year or so, he’s become really interested in learning how we can focus more by employing what he calls “deep work”. He defines it as:

Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capacities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill and are hard to replicate.

The alternative, shallow work, is the opposite. Non-demanding tasks which are often performed while distracted and easy to replicate. The plight of every student around – writing an essay with Facebook in the background.

Originally, I thought that there cannot be much to say about concentrating really hard on really tough work for a really long time. After all, the crux of the book might be seen as ‘get rid of distractions and get to work’ but there’s much more to it. He goes through multiple tactics to increasing the amount of “deep work” you can get out of the day (it’s very limited since it’s quite tough. So don’t expect eight hours straight away) and why “deep work” is valuable both in a professional and personal sense.

After spending some time with the book and trying to increase my deep work (so I have to work less during the day), I found that it became much easier to do and resulted in a decent dissertation effort towards the end of my degree. More importantly, I found that this sort of stuff can be improved through training (and lost through the lack of it). Much like meditation.

I hope to share some of the things I’ve learned about working more efficiently but here’s one huge take away he loves to talk about – email is not important. Stop checking it so often.

If you do any kind of academic or creative work, you’ll benefit greatly from Deep Work. 

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield

Chris Hadfield is my Canadian dad.

I’m not sure how that’s possible but I want it to be, so it is.

An astronaut with decades of life experience writes about how to live on earth. One hugely desirable virtue of Chris’s writing style is that he gives advice without sounding patronising and without the slightest hint of superiority over the reader. What you see is a character who is confident in his skills and abilities because of his experience in space.

Each chapter goes through a lesson he’s learned from his hours in space and showing us a moment in time where it applies. The great thing about these ‘lessons’ is how applicable they are to a multitude of problems we have in every day scenarios. He might say “prepare for the worst” in the context of crying in space (without gravity, tears don’t fall to the ground – they just ball up at the front of your eyes) or falling down a flight of stairs in front of loads of people where everyone is too far away to help but close enough to see (my tears fell to the ground perfectly. Thanks for asking).

Despite being an astronaut and being closer to the stars than most of us ever will, he seems to be very well grounded. The advice he offers is enclosed in funny and interesting stories that can entertain even the most apathetic about space.

He’s achieved a lot in his life but despite the magnitude of what he’s done, it isn’t discouraging. He inspires others to do the same.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

When I moved home, I started using the library more and came across a book called Jimmy Coates: Killer by Joe Craig. I fell in love with that book and the whole series. I’d stay up reading it and be too tired for school. When I’d write a story in class, I’d steal half my themes from the books and brand myself a literary genius.

I even emailed Joe saying that he’s awesome and can’t wait for his next book to come out. (I’m so glad I’ve stopped ending emails with “please reply, bye (a great fan)”.)

Ready Player One is probably the closest I’ve come to feeling that way again. The content isn’t similar but the pace and overall feel is just fantastic. I always wanted to know what happened next but also caught myself wanting to slow down and appreciate feeling so excited about a story again.

“Oh this chapter isn’t too short, you can read until the end. It’ll be the last one.”

The last time I lied to myself that much, I said I’d start my dissertation “today”.

Honourable mentions:

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh – This book feels so nice. Seriously, go touch this book, you’ll understand what I mean. It feels brilliant. The stuff inside is also hilarious.

Empathy by Roman Krznaric

Better by Atul Gawande

Do you have any book recommendations? Share them below! 


 

I’ve remembered I have a ill-used twitter account (@improvingslowly go follow it because it’s probably great).

As always, thanks for reading.

 

 

 

 

 

How to Prioritise like Warren Buffett

Here’s the oft cited story*

Buffett was talking to his pilot and asked him to write down the top 25 things he wanted to accomplish either in a few years or his lifetime.

“What 5 are the most important?” he asked.

This is a terribly difficult task and he took some time trying to decide his top 5 priorities – the accomplishments he wanted the most.

“But what about the other 20? What will you do with them?”

The pilot said that the other 20 aren’t as important but they’re a close second and he’ll work on them when he has time.

Warren then said that he’s made a mistake. Everything he didn’t pick as his top five gets no attention at all until his top five priorities have been accomplished.

No prioritisation = nothing gets done

If we don’t assign any kind of importance to our tasks, everything is of equal importance and urgency. You have a lot of choice but no way to determine which one you should start on first. Therefore, you spend a lot of time trying to decide rather than working on something important.

If you do happen to choose, without clear priorities, it’s easy to abandon the project because we wish to start a different one.

This useless dabbling can’t be taken too literally because we all prioritise some way simply by virtue of doing something. If I watch videos, at that time, my behaviour is indicates that videos is what deserves my attention.

While our behaviour seems to point towards our actual priorities, our actions doesn’t always match our desires. Meaning, we don’t prioritise too well.

Although I spend my time watching videos, it doesn’t mean I want to spend my time that way.

Ruthless Prioritisation

Prioritisation should be ruthless.

It involves saying no to tasks you don’t need to complete and some things you want to complete. It asks you to close the door to things you hold dear so you can spend more time with the most important things. Saying no to yourself when the tasks seem so important almost feels like you’re not giving yourself the best chance possible.

Why not do everything instead?

It increases our chance of doing less. Doing everything means we spread our focus and energy very thin. It leads to incomplete to-do lists and accompanying feelings of guilt.

So why does this technique work?

It emphasises simplicity.

By removing the things we don’t need to do and the activities which fall under the category of ‘it would be nice to do some day’, we free up a lot of mental space and reduce our levels of stress considerably.

It’s much more satisfying than blaming the lack of time because it isn’t a great excuse.

You can’t get more time in a day by asking the clock gods to make one hour 100 minutes long rather than 60 minutes. You make more time by removing the inessential and focusing on the important stuff in life.

I mentioned the term ruthless prioritisation because it involves closing the door to some things you have a desire to do and focusing as much as you can on a smaller number of important tasks.

In theory, this is difficult. In practice, it’s even more so.

Here are a few practical tips:

  1. “If I don’t do it, so what?”

What’s the worst thing that could happen if you didn’t make this a top priority?

What happens if it’s not completed?

For the vast majority of things, nothing significant happens. Otherwise, they’d be urgent priorities we’d devote a lot of time and energy to anyway.

I’ve said, along with millions of others that I want to learn a language. It was one of those ‘terribly important things I must do’ but somehow never devoted any time to.

“I should really get round to that”

“I’ll do it someday”

Have you said any of these things before?

Useless statements. They didn’t inspire action because they created an obligation that didn’t have any criteria for completion. They did, however, make me angry at my inaction.

What was I really saying? “I should really get round to it but I won’t”.

Admit it isn’t a priority or make it one. Let the self-imposed guilt will fall away.

  1. Stars, asterisks and scribbles

On your to-do list, write out a list of tasks you want to complete and put an asterisk next to the task you deem most important.

What does important mean in this context?

If you completed this and nothing else, the day is still a success. Everything else is just a bonus.

I found it helpful to be generous when doing this. Writing a long list and making everything a priority increases the standard for success very high but is often unhelpful. It increases self-criticism rather than your ability to complete more.

  1. Priorities change

After hearing about prioritisation and saying no to things, it might be tempting to think priorities can’t change.

They can and probably will.

Focusing on a task and deciding you don’t want to continue is a much better way of making choices than dabbling in a lot of things and never giving yourself the chance say no.

Here’s an example: Reading part of one book and choosing to stop reading is much better than skimming the pages and never understanding if you like the book or not.

Finding what is most important is difficult. And that’s normal.

I frequently find myself having too many options and needing to reassess what is important to me. Sometimes the list stays the same. Sometimes, it changes. It doesn’t always mean something is going wrong.

It’s often a simple indication that I’m changing my mind – which, admittedly, can be uncomfortable.

Letting go of fake obligations and priorities made handling feelings of guilt and indecisiveness much easier. I stopped being pulled in different directions and I could focus on the things I really wanted to do.

Proper prioritisation takes time. Often you’ll need a small reminder of your priorities rather than resorting back to spreading yourself too thin.

Prioritise the important and remove the distractions.

Find peace in focus.

What will you decide not to do?


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* As with a lot of stories about famous people, they aren’t sourced very well at all. I have no reason to believe that it actually happened any more than the Einstein story. Luckily, this story is merely a way to make the value of prioritisation more personal.

The story is from Live Your Legend.

Stop Watching Motivational Videos (and what to do instead)

They fade from black with one person as the focal point. The music is starts calm but it’ll build up to something. It’s a Hans Zimmer score, after all.

You see a fit person running up some stairs or someone boxing. If you’re lucky, you get to see scenes from The Pursuit of Happiness again with a speech from Rocky Balboa layered over the top.

As the video progress, more stuff about getting up after a fall and dreaming big is shown. You’re told you’re worth it and can do anything you want if you put your mind to it. You’re reminded of all the rags-to-riches stories that exist like J. K. Rowling living in a council estate to earning millions a day and getting rejected a number of times before finally being accepted.

You feel good.

You’re motivated.

But motivated to do what? Finally start on your goals? But only after one more video…

Stop watching motivational videos

They’re akin to depending on sugary energy drinks rather than a good night’s sleep to combat tiredness.

Motivational videos (and images) feed procrastination in a special way.

They make us feel productive without all the work required in between. They might lift our mood temporarily but do nothing to combat the problem. The problem might be perfectionism. It could be that you’re simply trying too much and the goals need to be broken down. Or a number of other things that continues procrastination.

Motivational videos do nothing to solve these problems. It’s far too easy to continue doing nothing at all to further progress.

Hell, there’s even a chance you’ll feel guilty because you still haven’t done anything.

Since the improvement in mood is temporary, we always need to be motivated to even consider working. That in itself is unsustainable. After a while, they lose their desired effectiveness and become boring like any other entertainment.

It leads to only doing work when we feel like it and waiting for magical inspiration to strike us on the head. Such things don’t happen. To work consistently towards something, you’ll have to do it when you don’t feel like it.

Depending on how we feel in order to start working is a poor strategy. With all the quick entertainment and instant gratification at our fingertips, when will we ever feel like working if we haven’t already become disciplined enough to make it a habit?

In this case, dependence on motivational videos is actually detrimental.

Clichés, clichés and more clichés.

If you’ve watched many motivational videos, you’ll hear many of the same things over and over again. You might repeat them a few times but if it doesn’t result in any action, it’s literally just an empty chant. For example: “When you breathe as bad as you want to succeed, then you’ll be successful” is a reasonably new phrase that’s creeped its way into motivational diction.

I don’t want to say it’s useless but it is somewhat unhelpful. It hides the work actually needed to be done in order to achieve those levels of hard work.

Let’s say you want to exercise and embodied that phrase.

Does it inspire feelings of moderation or extremes?

After hearing that, do you want to aim for a huge personal best every gym session? Or do you want to start running for a few minutes and try a few more the next day?

The first choice is inspired by these motivational videos. It’s unrealistic for a beginner and unsustainable. The second is achievable but doesn’t fit too well in a catchy phrase.

Small starts and consistent work isn’t shown in such videos because their nature isn’t to show you the hard work. They show the end result and say ‘just do it’.

Small starts and consistent progress is how we actually achieve our goals.

But of course, that isn’t as romantic. Discipline is rarely romantic. But it works.

What should I do instead?

Start small – Make the goal so small you can’t say no. Or work for 3 minutes and decide if you want to stop afterwards. For example, this article was started by simply writing the title.

Be kind – Don’t berate yourself with hatred and negative thoughts for not doing something. It only serves to make you feel bad and does nothing to further progress. It actually makes you less likely to do anything. If you feel like you’re worthless, why bother starting anything?

Be specific – A huge reason why we procrastinate is because we don’t know what to do. Saying ‘get fit’, ‘read more’ or ‘write essay’ doesn’t mean much. Saying you want to write 500 words by the end of the day or lose 10kg in 3 months makes the goal much more real and attainable.

Conclusion

Motivational videos aren’t helpful unless what we’re looking for is to feel good for a few minutes. If that’s the case, we should admit we watch them for entertainment rather than their life-changing abilities.

We simply don’t need to be intensely motivated for everything. It’s fine to just go for a run or write some words without becoming your own personal cheerleader in the process. It’s called being normal.

Consistent progress will beat motivational videos every time. That’s what self-discipline grants us.

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Do you find motivational videos helpful? If so, how often do you watch them?

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Who Would I Be?

‘Suppose you could take away the tics,’ he said. ‘What would be left? I consist of tics – there’d be nothing left.’

Witty Ticcy Ray

Who would I be without my disability?

Perhaps an odd question to ask. The answer should be ‘a better and happier person’.

Unfortunately, it is not that simple. I found myself resonating with Witty Ticcy Ray – I might be nothing without it.

For most of my teens, I’ve had to deal with pain, walking problems, and more recently, the resultant emotional fallout. In the most developmental stages of my life, I’ve grown up with it and lived my life around it.

To some, it’s the same as growing up with a favourite sports team or book series. A lot of the conversations you have with friends and family are around this favourite thing. For me, my habits and motivations have been moulded around my disability.

It’s difficult enough to answer the question of who I am right now let alone who I would be without a life-changing event.

A simpler question to ask is: Would I be a better person?

At first, I thought the answer should be a resounding ‘YES!’ I’d be pain-free. I’d read more. I’d have more fun with friends. I’d live without needless discomfort. I’d still be able to play sports. I wouldn’t have had operations 2 operation in a year. I wouldn’t even have to grapple with this question.

Yet, there was some resistance to my answer. I don’t know if I would be a better person.

I tend to view my disability as a negative thing and wish it gone every day. I have never thanked fate for my problem. Still, my answer to the question was not confident.

My hesitation came from the good things that have happened as a result of my disability.

I probably wouldn’t have become interested in personal development as early as I did. One of my motivations for starting a blog was to see how I could improve life despite my problems. In fact, none of my readers knew I had a disability until I wrote Living with Chronic Pain.

It’s unlikely I’d be as concerned about the welfare of other disabled students. In turn, that’s probably affected how I treat people more generally.

Would I be interested in meditation and mindfulness? These are two things I am forever grateful I started.

My disability has shaped me in some good ways. Would I still have those good qualities without it?

If I say I wouldn’t be a better person, does that mean my disability is a good thing? How can I reconcile that with my efforts to get rid of it?

If my disability is a good thing, why name it a disability?[1] Surely everyone faces some discomfort and this is just my personal one.

If I can’t call it a disability, what has been the source of all my discomfort and frustration?

Currently, I’ve asked many questions and given few answers. When I started thinking about these questions, I thought about what I’d be admitting with my answers.

Despite my attempts to steer clear of this, perhaps my disability is integral to my identity rather than just an addition onto the core ‘me’.

Maybe I can’t complain about my discomfort if I cannot imagine a better future.

Now I know that I have a lot more to consider. I have more questions and uncertainty to live with. I have a difficult dance with self-honesty and awareness.

To take a further step towards honesty, I’ll say it’s really scary. It’s like existential angst all over again. Unfortunately, I don’t think Albert Camus wrote a disabled version of The Stranger or The Myth of Sisyphus.

However, I’m glad Witty Ticcy Ray inspired the question. Given the length of the problem and the uncertainty surrounding the end, it was going to pop up eventually.

As always, thanks for reading.

***

1. The quote at the beginning is from The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks. Put it on your reading list if it isn’t there already. Witty Ticcy Ray was a man who had Tourette’s and was given Haldol to stop them. He became angry because he it took away his wit and quick reflexes. However, he still faced the problem of not being able to live a normal life with them.

2. When I wrote and shared Living with Chronic Pain, I was surprised at how well it was received. To everyone who read it, thanks for giving me the confidence to write more about disability. Hopefully, it’ll not only help me but other people who have disabilities, and those who are simply interested in it.

3. Here’s some more stuff to read:

The last two are positive articles about disability. I’m not sure if I share their enthusiasm but it’s also important to consider that mine is much less severe than theirs. It’s always good to have differing opinions about this subject rather than an echo chamber.

4. There have been a lot of end notes. Here’s another one.

***

[1] Julian Savulescu and Guy Kahane offer a definition of disability in The Moral Obligation to Create Children with The Best Chance of the Best Life. I think I satisfy it but it doesn’t take away from the question.

A stable physical or psychological property of subject S that,

(1) leads to a significant reduction in S’s level of well-being in circumstances C, when contrasted with realistic alternatives,

(2) where that is achieved by making it impossible or hard for S to exercise some ability or capacity, and

(3) where the effect on well-being in question excludes the effect due to prejudice against S by members of S’s society.

Or more simply, had x condition not existed then the person’s well-being would be higher. But it excludes things like not being able to fly as a disability… so far.

A Very Short Guide to Meditation

This is a very short guide to mindfulness meditation. If you want a few reasons for why you should meditate, you can read my post: 5 reasons to start meditating

You will need:

  • Yourself
  • A timer
  • A comfortable place to sit

How to begin meditating:

  1. Sit down with your back straight (or lie down)
  2. Set the timer to two minutes
  3. Focus on your breathing

And that’s it.

You don’t need to get into a complicated lotus position. You don’t need to wait until the world is silent.

All you have to do is sit still and focus on your breathing. When a random thought pops into your head, gently bring your focus back to your breathing.

You’ll find it difficult at first. Your mind will race in many different directions simply because you aren’t used to slowing down for couple of minutes in the day but it will get easier. You only have to do it for 2 minutes. Then do it again the next day. Maybe in a week you’ll increase it to three minutes.

It’ll get easier and you’ll be able to meditate for a longer time. Then you’ll reap more benefits of meditating every day.

You’ll feel calm, relaxed and more mindful of the things you do.

Mindfulness is Beautiful

For my last post, I gave 5 reasons to start meditating and I want to focus on the last point I made about increased mindfulness.

Mindfulness is a beautiful thing.

A few days ago, I was drinking a hot chocolate after my lectures and I realised something wonderful. I was enjoying the drink.

I wasn’t thinking about what I wanted to do for the rest of the day.

I wasn’t self-conscious about being alone.

I wasn’t feeling sad because of the pain I was in.

I wasn’t reading anything or looking at pictures.

I was just enjoying a hot chocolate.

I was simply immersed in what I was doing in the present moment and loved the experience. I didn’t need to do anything else . This is something I hadn’t actively done until I began meditating.

Of course, this doesn’t need to be limited to drinking hot chocolate. When I’m talking to other people, I give them more of my attention. When I’m writing, I immerse myself with the ideas I’m trying to get onto the page. When I’m walking, I take in my surroundings instead of rushing to where I’m going.

Throughout the day, I feel that we don’t allow ourselves get properly immersed in the things we’re doing because we’re scared of being bored. Even when we’re walking, the desire to look at our phone becomes overwhelming. When we’re talking to other people, our attention seems to shoot off into a different direction.

The beauty of mindfulness comes from its simplicity. Experiencing what’s happening now instead of being a slave to superficial desires and distractions, allows us to experience what we’re doing with complete immersion. You don’t need to be doing something all the time. You’re allowed to spend time with your thoughts.

The experience of just being without external distractions or harmful self-criticism is something I wish I experienced more.

Being more mindful of the simple things you do everyday definitely takes practice. You’ll need to remind yourself many times to bring your focus back to what you’re doing. Sometimes you’ll be frustrated, other times you’ll feel experience small moments of happiness. You can do this by practising mindfulness meditation or making an active effort to focus on the small things you do everyday.

With this being said, go and enjoy your hot chocolate :)

Do you have any similar experiences you want to share?

***

1. The picture comes from dharmaschool.co.uk

5 Reasons to Start Meditating

I’ve been meditating for about 6 months now. It nearly skipped my mind because it feels like such a normal thing to do but I feel like I’ve learned a few important things during that time.

Here are 5 reasons to start meditating.

1. Increased Focus 

Staying focused on things can be difficult because we have to remind ourselves not to succumb to small distractions. That requires energy and it’s significantly easier to be distracted than ignore them.

While meditating, you aim to just focus on your breathing (at least the mindfulness approach to meditation). Meditating daily means that you’ll improve your ability to remain focused on one thing instead of following every thought that pops into your head.

I no longer feel the need to follow everything that pops into my head because I understand them for what they are. Small urges.

2. Less guilt

Noticing that you’ve failed to do something we think you should have done can result in a lot of self criticism. It can be extremely harmful to your overall well-being and difficult to stop. I’m still quite self critical. However, while meditating I don’t have those feelings at all.

It’s a beautiful moment. Even if it is brief.

When thoughts of inadequacy rush into your head, it’s tempting to follow them into an even darker train of thoughts. However, all you have to do is bring your focus gently back to your breathing. You’ll probably find it quite difficult to do but it gets much easier with time.

The practice is something you can do even when you aren’t meditating.

3. Less stress 

When we’re stressed, we’re often worried about things that we need to do in the future or there are too many things that are going on in the present moment. We feel overwhelmed and want it all to stop but we can’t make it stop.

Meditation is fantastic at reducing stress. When you meditate you’re just trying to focus on a single thing instead of allowing yourself get consumed with the various commitments you have. Taking a few deep breaths and slowing yourself down will let you approach the things you need to do with a clear mind.

4. Better posture

I have a bad back problem and tend to slouch a lot because of it. While the problem is far from being over, my posture has improved slightly. Both in front of the computer and while walking.

Meditation promotes a better posture because you need to be fairly alert. Eventually, good posture will become a habit. It’s improved my concentration and breathing is actually easier!

Remember, having a good posture does not mean keeping your back completely straight. That’d hurt more if you have upper back problems.

5. Increased mindfulness

When I think about my position before I start meditating and now, I’d say that meditating is a positive aspect in my life now.

However, the biggest influence it has had on my everyday living isn’t the act of sitting down and meditating. It’s how I go about my day.

I think about the things I’m doing instead of thinking about what it’ll do for the future. I savour meals and drinks more instead of rushing them for no good reason. I get completely involved in what I’m doing instead of continuously dividing my attention with unimportant things.

Ultimately, I actually feel like I’m experiencing the things I do instead of just doing them. That is what it’s like to live in the now.

***

If you want to know how it felt after 1 month, you can read my last post on meditation. It’ll show you my experience when I first started. It can be quite frustrating but like anything else, it requires a bit of persistence to get used to!

I hope at least one of these reasons is a reason to begin meditating for at least 5 minutes a day.

If you already meditate, how would you convince someone else to begin? I’d love to hear your reasons! If you don’t, do you think you’ll try it?

1. You may ask why I didn’t do 6 reasons after 6 months to meditate. You may not. Either way, I don’t have an answer to your question.

2. If you feel like a peaceful person after reading this, you can share the peace by sharing this post.

3. I like meditation and will write more about it. If you want to keep updated on whatever I write, you should follow the blog. It’s easier than not laughing at any of my jokes.

The Productivity Trap

xkcd.com/874
“I never trust anyone who’s more excited about success than about doing the thing they want to be successful at.”

This trap is extremely easy for people to fall into.

When we treat productivity like a hobby, we can fall into the trap of spending significantly more time reading and writing about productivity instead of being productive. If you find yourself learning loads about various productivity systems and how to make the most out of the day instead of being productive, there’s a problem.

You might not have even noticed that it happens because it feels like you’re being productive (you’re learning more about productivity) and you’re always looking at things related to being productive. This way, it reinforces the false idea that you’re using your time to accomplish important things.

Keep it simple

A large reason for this might be the increasing complexity of productivity systems. Trying to juggle two different calendars, three email accounts and one hundred to do lists is extremely overwhelming and actually detrimental to getting more done in the day.

You don’t need multiple aspects to whatever system you decide to use. When you look at the different things you utilise to help you get the most out of the day, ask yourself how much you can get rid of without losing any effectiveness. For example, if you have two apps that help you make to-do lists, get rid of one or both and use pen and paper. Also, don’t rely on apps to do everything for you.

A small reminder 

Remember that reading about doing work isn’t the same as doing work.

Using all your motivation from motivational pictures to look at more motivational pictures isn’t a good use of your motivation.

Information about productivity is only useful if you go on to do something productive!

 

Do you find yourself reading more about productivity than doing what you need to do?

***

1. The comic is from xkcd.com/874. It’s a fantastic web comic. If you haven’t heard of it before, I strongly recommend reading through one or two or five.

2. If you found the post helpful, share it. If you thought it was more concise than War and Peace, you should follow the blog. Then get back to work, of course. Or be happily unproductive.

How to be happily unproductive

I’ve noticed that I don’t do all that much with my free time. I do mindless things like browse the internet and watch videos. I always link free time with relaxation so I disassociate myself from anything I perceive as work.

I’ve also noticed that this trend leads to more frustration that it’s meant to. I feel better when I’m making progress with work. However, it seems odd to exclaim I enjoy working instead of relaxing but that’s exactly what happens. Doing nothing constructive can be extremely boring and even tiring but I almost feel obligated to continue doing nothing with my free time because I don’t want it to become like work.

Being in the flow

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has produced some great research on what makes people happy. He noticed that a surprising number of people are actually happier at work than during their free time despite saying they enjoyed their free time more.  In light of this, the solution for some is to either fill up their free time with more work or do nothing about it. Neither are ideal. One just leads to burnout and a build up of resentment towards it. The other doesn’t help change your position in any way.

Csikszentmihalyi says that being in a state of flow is what makes people happy. There are a few factors present when someone is in the flow.

  1. They’re completely focused on one activity
  2. They feel in control of what they’re doing
  3. It’s intrinsically rewarding
  4. They essentially lose their sense of time

All these factors point to a situation where you’re so focused on an activity you enjoy that you don’t have time to be frustrated with yourself. You feel relaxed because you’re living in the present and very mindful of what you’re doing.

Best of all: you’re happy. 

How to be in the flow

While you’ve probably experienced this feeling before, you might not know why it happens.

This chart shows what it takes for someone to be in the state of flow.

The difficulty level of the activity should match our perceived skill set. This means  it shouldn’t be so difficult that you feel like throwing a chair through your window. Nor should it be so easy that you could fall asleep at a moments notice.

People usually feel happier while actually doing something (even if it’s at work or while studying) because of a constructive environment. You’re more likely to be completely focused on a project you want to work on, than sifting through pictures of birds with arms.

Why free time can make us unhappy 

The reason why people can feel frustrated or unhappy with their free time is mainly because they don’t do anything with it.  If you spend all day refreshing YouTube, then you’l probably feel extremely unfulfilled. Boredom will rise at an alarming rate, time will disappear and ‘damn, where did the time go?’ will be exclaimed.

Being happily unproductive 

If you don’t feel like you enjoy your free time or have even found it draining (like I have!), here’s a list of a few things you could start doing:

Learn a new skill – There’s so much out there that can help you learn things for free or a small price. Online courses offered by websites such as Coursera, edX, Codecademy and Duolingo are fun and engaging. You don’t need to put pressure on yourself to complete them by a certain date.

Read a book – If you have a list of books that you’ve been meaning to get started with, actually do it. If not, there are over 800 new books published each day in the US. You’ll find something to read! Losing yourself in a good book is a perfect example of what it feels like to be in the flow.

Create something – At least try. It’s easy to dismiss this option because you’re ‘not a creative person’ but creativity is something that can be developed as well as anything else. Write, draw, make music or even build something! It doesn’t need to be a best seller but spend a small time creating something and you’ll probably find it fun and try again.

Have a hobby – That can be anything from maintaining a blog or learning something new to marking origami turtles. If you have no idea what you could do, try a variety of things and you’ll find something you’ll want to pursue more. (Try origami, it’s a lot of fun)

Do some gaming – This isn’t an excuse to game unconditionally for hours and hours on end but the reason why we can play games for so long is because of flow!

Enjoy your free time 

After reading this, you might have realised that you don’t actually care for much of what you do in your free time. Switching through TV channels in an attempt to find something interesting is boring. Instead, do something interesting.

You don’t want it to be be mentally draining or become like work but doing next to nothing might not help you feel that relaxed either.

If you want to find out more about flow and where I got my information from, I’d recommend watching Csikszentmihalyi’s TED talk on the topic and reading his book called ‘Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience’.

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Another thing you can do, if you found this post helpful, is share it. You can follow the blog too. It’ll put you in the zone if you do. (It won’t. Sorry)

1. The ‘800 books a day’ statistic was simply found by dividing the number of books published a year in the US by 365.

2. The image came from news.cnet.com

3. Birds with arms is exactly what it sounds like.

4. I can’t say Csikszentmihalyi’s name. I just stare at it. Should I feel bad? Csikszentmihalyi if you ever read this post, hi and sorry I can’t say your name.

5 short lessons learned from 750 words

Over the past month I’ve been pretty busy with work and recovering from an operation. However, I’ve managed to keep a daily journal going for 30 days and I’d like to share a few things I think I’ve learned from it.

1. I have something to say

This might be an odd one but when I started writing I thought I’d never be able to reach 750 words or more without really struggling. As I continued, it didn’t feel like I was straining myself to write a lot. Even if a lot of what I wrote wasn’t great, it was still something that could be improved if I wanted to.

2. Writing daily is relaxing

In addition to daily meditation, just sitting down and writing about whatever I want is relaxing. It gives me the chance to slow down my day and just think about what’s happened throughout the day or work on an idea I have. It isn’t demanding and lets me spend time with myself and my thoughts.

3. It helps create ideas 

Since the 750 words are just a brief platform for me to write about anything, it gives me the chance to write about any ideas that I have written down or thought about. When I was writing essays, I would often just think about any arguments I could use and expand on them. Or I would think about general articles that I want to write. Writing my thoughts out makes them a bit clearer and much more likely to actually write about them in full!

4. We can make boring things interesting 

I’ve written about why slippers are interesting. They aren’t. But I made sure they were for my daily words.

5. I can create a habit

This is probably the most important. I managed to stick to something for 30 days and I feel like continuing. It wasn’t that difficult. I realised that I was probably just fearing a situation that didn’t exist. That being: ‘Writing daily would be really difficult and there’s no way I’d have time to keep it up.’

That wasn’t true in the slightest. When you get started, it doesn’t need to be extremely grand. Start small and you’ll find the process much easier.

I’d recommend starting a daily journal. It can be done on 750words but you can use the traditional pen and paper or just a word document. The word count isn’t the main focus. It’s the act of spending time with yourself and writing.

Plus, it’s pretty fun!

Do you keep a journal?