Structure is a two edged sword.
On one hand, children are graded and organized long before they can ask the questions of why or how, putting them in a system of compliance that they most likely don’t understand. People are often raised up into structures without having a complete picture of the heart behind the structure or what the structure is for.
But on the other hand, structures can be used as a resource to help people move forward. Many of the organized movements that had the impact that they did was largely due to the organization and structure of the leaders.
The purpose of a structure is to support the goals of the people. When people, become servants of structure, people limit themselves. They aim too low and succeed.
I’m sure you’ve met people who have told you they want to be a doctor, lawyer, or engineer. But if the profession is seen as the end, rather than the means, its easy to get caught in the rat race of serving structure. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be in a certain industry, but the value comes when you understand where your work is taking you.
Whenever people ask me what I want to do, I tell them that I do awesome. I tell them that I want to change the world and positively influence people’s lives. I tell them that I have a passion for connecting and communicating, and that technology is one of the mediums that I am learning to leverage.
Don’t serve structure. Allow it to serve you.
I love getting things done. I love the feeling of coming to the end of my day, and listing out all the things that I was able to accomplish in the last sixteen hours.
So when I wake up in the morning, without a clear plan for how I am going to spend my day, a little bit of me panics. Wasting time and being bored are two of the worst feelings for me.
I have a world to change, and I don’t have time to sit around passively waiting.
Reading The In-Between by Jeff Goins, Jeff talks about embracing the moments in between the exciting events, or the slow and boring times.
I’m a computer science student with big dreams. I want to create web and mobile applications, and offer my services of designing websites. This morning, I woke up with a couple projects on my mind that I wanted to finish, but I was desperately waiting on other people to finish their part. I spent about two hours writing code, and then decided that I couldn’t really make any more progress until my partner did his part.
I went downstairs, and I took a break. I sat on the couch, reflecting on my life, relationships, and education. I took some time to sit and reflect, casually played some guitar, and let myself just relax within the presence of the warm morning sun. I noticed how the sunlight was piercing through my bay window, creating rays that illuminated the dust in the air.
Until a thought popped into my head about getting things ready for my move back to school next week. Quickly, I scurried back upstairs in order to start putting things together, cleaning and organizing the things I had to move. Then I thought about my blog, and the next posts that I would write, and quickly opened my evernote to jot down my ideas. I began hustling through blogs, going through websites and reading all the new content on my favorite blogs. I checked Medium, Quora, Pinterest, Tumblr, and Twitter for any new updates.
Then my mom called me for lunch. I told myself to take a deep breath, and that I would go downstairs and enjoy lunch. That I would take it slow, and not be preoccupied with the things that I wanted to get done.
I had a nice conversation over lunch with my mom, which was quickly drowned out by thinking about the code I was writing for my web application.
“Daniel, calm down and rest, Listen to what Jeff is saying about embracing the moment.”
I spent the afternoon talking to a friend, reading a part of the Bible together and just taking it easy. Then I took a nap.
Going as fast as you can and being as productive as possible seems like such a essential and powerful mindset, especially for a college student in 2013. But through Jeff’s book and other mentors and friends in my life, I’ve been learning what it means to slow down and appreciate the moments that appear mundane and boring.
Through the events in my day bringing me back and forth between restlessness and restfulness, I realized the value of slowing down and being present in the moment. I had already been learning about rest for the last couple months or so, but I constantly found it and still find it difficult to rest sometimes.
One thing about rest that I am always reminded of is the creation story in the book of Genesis. Adam, being created on the sixth day, had the sabbath as the first day of his life. The very first day that Adam spent in the world was a day of rest. Nothing else mattered. He wasn’t forced to go to work tending the garden right away, because God was teaching him how to appreciate the in between times.
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. If the subject of your life are the big events, the negative space is the time and space in between such events. And the way that the negative space is presented drastically effects the appearance and quality of the subject.
Everything will try to fight for your time, whether it be friends, family, work, or hobbies, choosing to intentionally say no to certain activities will help you to create negative space in your life that will help you to be in the present, and focus on the things that you really care about.
It all sounds fine and dandy, but I’ve found three main questions to answer when thinking about slowing down.
- What really matters to me? and why does it matter?
- What am I doing right now that is distracting me from what really matters?
- What is the most significant or relevant thing that I should be focusing on right now?
The answers to these three questions will help you begin to process how to slow down by figuring out what really matters to you and what is worth your time.
There is value in the things that you fill your time with, but sometimes there is greater value in what you choose to not fill your time with.
I’ve always hated the distinction between introverts and extroverts because I never could identify with either side. The accepted school of thought is that a person is either one or the other, without any middle ground.
According to Myers Briggs, perhaps the most widely popular and accepted personality test, extroverts are action oriented, seek breadth of knowledge and influence, prefer frequent interaction, and get energy from spending time with people while introverts are thought oriented, seek depth of knowledge and influence, prefer more substantial interaction, and get their energy from spending time alone.
However, contrary to the binary choices provided by Myers Briggs, I’ve realized that extroversion/introversion is a spectrum, like a person’s height.
All of my life, I’ve had people (family, close friends, teachers, counselors) tell me different things. Some would say I was an introvert, and others would say that I was an extrovert. To different people I seemed to be different things.
After browsing the web and looking at a few more resources and doing some reflection, I came across a term called the ambivert, and finally felt understood by a personality test. I am very much an ambivert. There seems to be very little written about ambiverts, (Evernote isn’t even recognizing it as a word) so here are my thoughts.
Ambiverts sit on the spectrum of social interaction right in between the introverts and extroverts. Ambiverts love spending time with people, but get tired after spending too much time around people. Ambiverts are also very capable of doing things alone, but spending an entire day alone can suck them into a depressed, unproductive mood.
Ambiverts love interacting with people, but in a very purposeful way. Ambiverts can have extremely animated and interactive conversations, or mellow and meditative ones. Ambiverts will defend both their personal time as well as their social time.
Ambiverts process information best when they process internally and externally. Ambiverts need time and space to process things on their own, but they also need people who they can trust to process things with externally. In order for ambiverts to fully process information, they usually need both.
Ambiverts seek breadth of knowledge and influence, but dive deep when they are truly passionate. Ambiverts can be thought or action oriented, depending on the situation, but they are also oftentimes both.
The challenge for ambiverts is finding one thing to stick with. Because ambiverts do well socially and individually, it’s easy for an ambivert to become the jack of all trades, having knowledge in many different areas but not necessarily an expert an any of them.
Ambiverts tend to do well adapting to any situation that they are placed in, whether it be a loud social scene or a secluded environment.
However, no matter if you identify as an extrovert, introvert, or ambivert, don’t let a personality test define how you think about yourself. Figuring out how you work best for yourself is much more helpful than any test.
What do you think? Where would you put yourself on the spectrum?
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.
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.