Connection today is more powerful than it has ever been before.
On a daily basis, thousands of tweets fill my stream, hundreds of posts fill my feed, countless emails fill my inbox, new TED talks are uploaded, and all my favorite blogs have new updates. While the access to and amount of information is incredible, it’s nearly impossible to keep up with it all.
But the reality is that you don’t have to be up to date with everything that is happening in order to make a dent in the world. Being well informed has little correlation with the impact they have.
It’s tempting to want to follow every single blog and news source in the world to see what other people are up to. It feels good to know what has been done and what has not. But the truth is, it’s easier to listen to something than it is to do something.
The effectiveness of the content that is consumed depends not only on the content itself, but the space and context that it is consumed. Reading a news article without actually doing anything about it makes the news merely informative entertainment.
In designer’s terms, negative space refers to the space around and between the subject of an image or design element. It’s often the white or blank space that subtly adds meaning and significance to the positive space, or the subjects in focus.
When it comes to acquiring new information, the negative space between information that you consume matters just as much as the information you consume. The negative space is what allows you to process and synthesize your own thoughts about the content you are taking in.
There’s nothing wrong with reading every single business book in the world. There’s nothing wrong with keeping yourself updated with every blog post someone puts out. But there comes a point where you can no longer be merely a consumer.
Take time after reading an article or book and ask yourself what it actually means to you. Let the new ideas spin gears in your head and inspire you to actually do something. It helps to regularly block out input from information sources, and organize your own thoughts in the negative space.
Simple is not stupid.
Simplicity breeds consistency, which in turn creates reliability. Creating anything reliable and consistent, while innovating the way people live is how movements are started. And once these innovations reach millions, many of them will wonder why they never thought of the same idea.
There’s a certain elegance to the way that simple applications solve problems.
Simple is not just a way of doing things, or the features of a product, after all, there is a difference between a simple product that excels and a cheap product that disappoints. Simple is not cheap.
Simple is a new way of thinking about things, often reducing it’s problem to it’s most basic. The counter-intuitiveness of simplicity is that it isn’t stupid.
Movements gain momentum when ideas are clear and easy to express and understand, easily unifying multitudes of people.
Minimalism is a statement. It’s about taking away until you’re left with something that just works. It’s about removing the bells and whistles that often make something attractive, and clearing the toolkit until you only have a couple tools left.
But simplicity is not about what you do or what you do it with. Even if you put the fancy tools away in a box, it’s about releasing your creativity from the box.
Minimalism is about taking away. Simplicity is about thinking away. Simplicity can be manifested as minimalism, but is not defined by it.
World class chefs can create astounding dishes with only a handful of ingredients put together with only a handful of techniques. Skilled photographers can take jaw dropping pictures with a point and shoot. Talented authors can paint vivid pictures and convey fabu thoughts with pen and paper.
Stupid is not simple.
Understanding flow is something that no one taught me when I was younger, and only have I recently been thinking about. Flow, in this article, is defined as the zone of productivity when a person gives their complete, undivided attention to an activity, often to the point of losing track of time, and occasionally even other human needs (sleep, food, restroom breaks).
A friend recently sent me an email asking if breaking activities into one hour chunks was an effective way to be productive. Essentially, he was proposing a modified version of the pomodoro technique, which some people swear by.
However, an aspect that stands out about the pomodoro technique and similar techniques is the rigid time frame that can potentially end up interrupting flow. The reason the pomodoro technique works is because it is using time as a physical and tangible inspiration to become more productive.
Having an external motivator like time is often necessary, especially under circumstances where the activity at hand is not the most appealing, or you would otherwise have no desire to do the activity.
After I realized that something like the pomodoro technique was a way to inspire flow, I decided I would rather figure out a way to directly get into flow and maintain flow rather than using a measurement of time to inspire productivity.
The unfortunate truth is that relying on a time keeping device to manage your productivity can potentially train a person to value a length of time over productivity and creativity. And unfortunately, that’s exactly how the school system is set up with class and break periods.
Everyone at some point in their life has experienced flow without restraint from time, as those are the experiences when you lose track of time.
Getting into flow looks different for each person and looks different for each activity, but their are a couple of common attributes to every flow state.
- People in a flow state aren’t easily distracted – When a person gives their undivided attention to something, nothing can easily distract them from what they are doing. Thus, finding an environment without distraction is generally helpful to maintain flow, but is not necessary if flow is strong enough.
- People in a flow state generally do things faster – People who are highly focused in on learning something new generally learn a lot faster and a lot better. If information is coming in faster, it generally requires a much higher state of focus in order to comprehend and process all of it as it comes in. Driving a car at 120 mph definitely requires more focus than driving a car at 20 mph.
- People in a flow state care about the activity they are doing and understand why they are doing it – Also known as driven by an internal passion or bigger picture, flow states are usually accompanied by a somewhat deep desire to accomplish something. Therefore, a good place to start to get into a high level of focus is to figure out why you are doing something, and then dig even deeper.
Here are also some interesting stories on flow if you’re interested – Steven Kotler – Hacking Flow & Ultimate Human Potential at SuperheroYou.
But of course, understanding how flow works is only a piece to productivity, and learning how to implement flow into a healthy physical and emotional lifestyle is a whole other topic.
It’s only been a couple of weeks since I read this book, but many of the principles are becoming pretty evident.
Learning how to make and break habits is a very powerful thing. Habits emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort.
Habits are made up of a three step loop, the cue, the routine, and the reward.
The cue is what prompts the routine. Generally, cues are divided into five different categories: location, time, emotional state, other people, or an immediately preceding action. The routine then, is the set of actions that a person executes as a response to the cue. And finally, the reward is the feeling or result of performing the routine.
Understanding how to take control of the habit loop is they way to build new habits or change existing ones. Reading this book made me even more aware of habits I never thought of. Toothbrushing only became a regular practice when the minty, refreshing flavor was introduced, leveraging the reward of brushing your teeth. Many little habits form a person’s behavior, whether they realize it or not.
Reading this book made me realize how passion alone is not enough. While structure is something that can become dry or ineffective without passion, the most effective people use passion in order to intentionally create structure in the form of habits in order to achieve their passion. And when the habit is formed, people can use those habits to their advantage without even thinking about it.
I’m weird. While most people study different subjects, I study different ways of studying.
After reading things from Tim Ferris, Michael Ellsburg, and others, I have found that the 80/20 rule applies practically anywhere.
The idea is that 20% of the work produces 80% of the results.
The challenge then, is deconstructing and figuring out which 20% gives you the most results. For example, in every language there are words that are the most commonly used words, which often make up a large majority of the whole language. If you are able to supercharge your learning by learning what matters, everything else comes a lot easier.
This concept has saved me countless hours of academic work, by prioritizing material to learn. In my most recent writing class, I experimented on how to read and analyze multiple articles and write a two to three page response in less than half an hour. With the end paper in mind, I began typing my response to the articles while I was reading them, knowing that all my teacher wanted was a thoughtful response to the articles.
This concept explains how people like Tim Ferris are able to master skills in extremely short periods of time. (Look him up if you’ve never heard of him)
Therefore, it is no longer about how you study, how long you study, but also what you study and the order you study it in.
People consume too much.
and produce too little.
In theory, the more you consume, the more you should be able to produce. But in practice, since most of what we consume is highly superfluous, it hinders our ability to produce.
Information is valuable, but only when it is applicable.
You’d probably be surprised how liberating an information diet is.
I hate excuses. Especially when people use excuses to excuse themselves from responsibility. It’s much more effective to work through whatever inadequacies you may think you have than to be crippled by an excuse for the rest of your life.
People like giving excuses cause it’s easier than learning how to overcome inadequacy. We find it easier to complain than to gain.
So today, released onto the very pages of this blog, is a big, fat, red pill. This post will contain some of the most common excuses that I hear, and how to overcome them. You’ve been warned. After reading this, do not ever use these excuses ever again.
“I suck with names” – I used to say this one all the time myself, telling people I met up front that I probably wasn’t going to remember their name. Then I realized how stupid that statement was, because I was essentially giving up the possibility of learning someone’s name by saying that. Remembering people’s names, even if you’ve only met them once, isn’t even that difficult, but most people just give up.
- Be motivated to remember people’s names. The main reason why we don’t remember names is because we don’t care enough. If I were to tell you that you would get $100 for remembering my name, I bet you wouldn’t forget my name even if you tried.
- Use the person’s name. It becomes easier to remember someone’s name if you say it verbally yourself.
- Ask the person about their name. This is especially helpful if you meet someone who has a name you may not be used to. Asking them the history / meaning / spelling of their name are all ways to help you remember their name.
- Link the face to the name. Faces are always easier to remember than names. Therefore, it helps to visualize people’s faces while trying to remember their name.
“I suck at time management / I’m too busy” – The reason why most of us have problems managing our time is because we’re used to other people managing our time for us. So when we don’t have somebody to tell us what to do, we often end up wasting a lot of time. Time management has a direct relationship with what activities you do and your motivation for doing them.
- Learn to do things because you love to do them, not because you’re forced to. In terms of education and schoolwork, view your education as an opportunity to learn and invest into yourself, even if you may not enjoy the particular subject at hand.
- Stay focused on the purpose behind everything you do. Looking at the bigger picture will help you stay motivated on a day to day basis, and keep you from burying your face too closely in the details.
- Try different time management strategies. Most of us probably keep some sort of todo list somewhere, but if that isn’t enough for you, there are also tools such as Evernote and the GTD method using Evernote. The Pomodoro Technique is another strategies that a couple of my friends swear by.
“I’m not ready” – Then get ready. Whenever I hear something like this, it usually means much more than not being ready. People who use this excuse often are not even in the process of getting ready, and it actually reveals a lack of effort or determination to get ready.
- Figure out what it means to be ready. It is always helpful to have a goal that you want to achieve. Having clear, defined goals is always the first step to scoring. It’s hard to score a goal you can’t see.
- Take active steps to get ready. Take intentional actions in order to achieve the goal in the aforementioned step.
“I’m too lazy” – A lack of motivation will always discourage you from doing something. Strangely enough, the people who say that they are too lazy to do things are the ones that complain that they are bored. Either way, this excuse reveals a lack of motivation.
- Decide objectively whether the action at hand is worth your time. Consider many points of view. Sometimes these actions are things that we know we should do, but we just lack the motivation to do them. Hopefully assessing the value of an action is enough to get you to stop being lazy.
- Find motivation and accountability. If you want to do something, but often struggle with actually doing it, finding a community that you can run (metaphorically or physically) with is often the best motivation and accountability you can find. It is even more effective when the community you find is already doing the things you want to do.
“Not my fault” – Okay. Things that happen sometimes will not be your fault. But using this excuse with someone else is often pushing full responsibility onto someone else, which hopefully will turn out fine. But if you care at all, it would be smart to communicate what you know and help clear things up instead of taking the three word escape pod.
- There is no such thing as over-communication (which is much different than repetition, aka “nagging”). If something is unclear, it is always better to verbalize what you are thinking instead of operating off of assumptions.
- Talk directly to the person in question. Gossiping about a problem only creates false assumptions and unnecessary antagonism. If you have a problem with someone, communicate with them.
“I don’t have enough money” – Poor you. People are always complaining that they don’t have enough resources to accomplish what they want to do. But it’s stupid to complain about what you don’t have when you aren’t even utilizing what you do have.
- Spend consciously. This is not necessarily being stingy with your money, this is about being aware of where your money is going and being sure that you are spending efficiently on what you actually need / truly care about. Prioritize the things you buy.
- Educate yourself on how to manage your finances and be conscious with your spending. I recommend “I Will Teach You To Be Rich” by Ramit Sethi.
“I’m too tired / didn’t get enough sleep” – I’ve heard this often, especially because I’ve been surrounded by overachieving Asians most of my life. This is usually a indication of poor time management or poor priority management.
- If you wouldn’t wake up early for it, you shouldn’t stay up late for it. If you find yourself wasting time online instead of going to sleep at night, and then feeling extremely tired the next morning, it would probably be smart to consider whether your night surfing is worth your time.
- If you’re just actually too busy, take time to reconsider the things you invest your time in, and revisit the “I’m too busy” excuse above.
“YOLO” – This is actually an excellent excuse to go on adventures.
What are other excuses you need to stop using? Let’s hear about them in the comments.
Ever since a young age, we have allowed programs and systems to manage our lives.
We all know the feeling of wasting an afternoon on the computer, not really doing much besides endlessly browsing Facebook and randomly surfing the internet. We spend half of our time online on “social networks” that prove to be quite anti-social. So we mindlessly browse around, refreshing the page every 2 minutes, hoping to see something new scroll across our newsfeed.
We are so accustomed to having our schedule managed for us that when we have free time, we don’t know what to do with it. So we occupy ourselves by doing the easiest thing possible, which often is some sort of mindless activity such as watching TV, randomly browsing Facebook, or doing nothing at all.
We find ourselves often bored, because we have nothing to occupy ourselves with. We don’t have enough personal projects or things to do to keep us occupied. It’s a trend that seems to happen every year, as students all across the nation begin their summer breaks. All of a sudden, they are no longer given homework, tests, or academic projects to manage their time.
I’ve realized that people who have found their passions find themselves in boredom far less frequently. The reason is that people who have found passion and purpose are always taking steps in regard to their purpose. If you often find yourself bored with nothing to do, it’s probably a good indicator that you’re used to other people managing your time and telling you what to do.
But at some point in life, something clicks and people make the shift to being intentional about what they want to do, setting clear goals and steps to achieve their goals. Unfortunately, we’re not taught how to manage our time growing up, and so it becomes a cycle of trial and error in order to be productive and creative with our time.
When and how did you learn to manage your time? and what difference did it make?