How to stop procrastinating is one of the biggest questions we all struggle with on a daily basis. This paragraph has already taken two days to write!
Tasks that seem difficult, unpleasant, or hard to guess the duration of tend to get put on the long finger. There’s probably a physiological aspect to this. Note: I’m not an expert in any of the fields involved here, but in layman’s terms: The function of procrastination is believed to be our minds protecting us from stress, and the cortisol that we know will be released by engaging with stressful tasks. We’re particularly prone to procrastinate when we’re tired or already stressed. But our bodies don’t necessarily realise that we’ve got bills to pay, dammit!
If procrastination is a protective function though, our bodies don’t seem to consider that incomplete tasks take up mental space (though you can reduce this affect by writing things down on a To Do list), whereas getting things done produces a little dopamine hit. So it’s clear that procrastination, while natural, isn’t necessarily doing us many favours if it’s saving us from a little cortisol now, robbing us of dopamine soon, and producing more cortisol in the long run by creating more incomplete tasks.
Probably best to get a handle on it, then. So! Here are some of my adopted techniques to stop procrastinating. People in paid 9-5 employment can benefit from these too, though they apply more to those with flexible working days.
The Pomodoro Technique
This technique takes its name from the Italian word for tomato. This is because its inventor, Francesco Cirillo, had a tomato-shaped kitchen timer on his desk that he used to measure work periods of (usually) 25 minutes.
The idea is to work in 25-minute sprints, then take a 5 minute break (good to move around, use the bathroom, get some water, etc) and resume another period after that. You repeat this up to 4 times for a very productive couple of hours, then you should take a longer break.
I first started using this technique while working in my last job as a games programmer. I’d have been assigned a big feature to complete, that would take hours or days (you never quite know with games programming). I’d break the task down into chunks that should take 25 minutes or less each, and then focus intently on just that sub-feature for 25 minutes. Sometimes a task wouldn’t be complete, but I’d have definitely broken the back of it without getting distracted. When the clock’s ticking, we tend to focus better.
Now, how this helps me to stop procrastinating requires just a little twist in what you think the technique is best used for. It’s great for productivity, yes, but it also carries the strong likelihood that that unpleasant task (say, a VAT return, or employee review) will be off your plate in less than a half hour if you just start now!
That promise has seen me start and finish more programming jobs, tenders, applications, emails, and bookkeeping tasks than any other technique. I’m even running a Pomodoro clock right now. I’ve 9 minutes left. The blog won’t be finished in that time, but in one more the first draft should be done, another and I’ll have edited and added pictures, and one final one will see it posted, shared on social media, and totally finished!
You could get yourself a desk timer, but I just use a simple free App called ‘RemindMe for Windows‘ (which I also use to remind myself to correct my posture at my desk every now and again).
As I often mention, this is one of the biggest benefits to hiring a coach. A coach is of more benefit keeping you accountable towards bigger goals and tasks, but accountability can be used in all sorts of ways.
When I used to live-stream game development, I set two times a week (and posted them on my streaming pages and Twitter) that I would be streaming live at that time. I didn’t have a huge audience, but once the info was out there, I’d be a liar not to show up and start working. Whatever else happened in the week, I always had two slots of 90-120 minutes where the game itself, in-engine, got worked on. This kept the ball rolling and not stuck in an email & admin pothole.
Similarly, once an artist and composer joined my team, I felt accountable to them, and any tasks I had that they needed done miraculously got accomplished. Most of us hate to let others down and are much more willing to not deliver on a promise made to ourselves alone.
If you work alone and people aren’t counting on you, posting things publicly, or getting an accountability buddy (accountabilabuddy – I can never let that hilarious contraction go unsaid) or coach can seriously help you to stop procrastinating and finish more tasks.
Urgency – Make Plans
This leads on from the others fairly well, but it’s a little different. Where the Pomodoro technique has you create an artificial time pressure, and accountability has you create (if it doesn’t already exist) artificial social pressure, this has you create real pressure – timed and usually social.
Parkinson’s Law states that a task will expand to fill the time allotted for it, in the same way that a gas will fill any given chamber evenly. I’ve always noticed that if my evening is free, I’ll usually wind up finishing some of the tasks that were allotted for the working day in the evening. If, however, I’ve made plans with someone to go to a show, gig, movie, etc, now I’ve now got a real time constraint on the day, and the social pressure of not wanting to cancel on my friend. If I’ve bought tickets, I’ll have the benefit of financial loss aversion too!
Doing this not only helps you knuckle down and get things done, but it rewards you for doing so and protects your work/life balance, which in turn protects your long term health, productivity, and enthusiasm. It’s a positive feedback loop that’s actually very powerful!
So rather than not make plans because you might have to finish work (you always will, according to Parkinson), say yes to that invite to the pub or games night.
How to Stop Procrastinating – In Conclusion
Using these three techniques (and others) have greatly helped me to stop procrastinating and increase the number of unpleasant jobs that I get done. Doing so has also freed up more time for me to enjoy my life outside of work hours (by basically creating “outside of work hours”).
I hope they’re of use to you as well. You might also enjoy my article “Movement Beats Meditation” (which is about perfectionism, not exercise or spirituality).
Do leave a comment if you have any of your own techniques or success stories, and please share the article if you found it valuable.
Loom screen capture software is a very fast and simple way to communicate effectively and asynchronously for remote teams, and to regain some of the “human-ness” that we miss from working in the office.
Loom screen capture software is a very fast and simple way to communicate effectively and asynchronously for remote teams, and to regain some of the “human-ness” that we miss from working in the office.
Watch the video or read the transcription below.
Hi! Today I’m going to talk about how to use Loom for more productive communication between remote teams.
There are 4 reasons that I find Loom great for remote workers.
The first is that it’s asynchronous, so you can record a video and post a link to your teammates or your clients for them to check out later in their own time, and they can get back to you with any questions.
The second reason is that Loom’s clear video format allows you to quickly explain things that might take a lot longer and with a lot more back and forth through emails or through Slack messages. Instead, you can just quickly show what you’re pointing to, like something that’s wrong on a web page or a new section of a report, without having to try to explain that by typing the words through an email.
The next reason that I find it great for remote teams is that you get back some of what is lost by not being in the office. And that you can see and hear your co-workers or your clients and they don’t just become another text interface. You get more personality out of the video than you would just by back and forth and emails. I really enjoy receiving Loom videos. I don’t really care what they’re about, I just like to see what the person I’m working with is doing; what they’re what they’re up to that day – whether it looks like it’s cloudy outside, etc. It’s just an added bit of human interaction that we’ve been missing.
And the fourth reason I like it is that it’s just fast and simple to use. You can very quickly set up the video and share your full screen or share part of your screen with your own image, optionally. You can change the size of your own webcam display, and be showing the rest of your screen off…
So, to get started, you want to go to Loom.com/download and get either the Chrome extension if you use the Chrome browser, or download the desktop app. It’s worth noting that Loom is completely free but with a five minute time limit on your recordings (which I find is kind of a good thing actually, because it makes you be more concise and get the message across without rambling). You can pay for the business tier to remove that time limit, of course. The free version is also limited to your 100 most recent videos. So you can make 100 recordings, which is fine for most people, but if you want to retain older recordings (if you have them as part of your documentation, for example) you’re going to have to either pay to save those, or you can download those videos and save them somewhere else like YouTube or internal servers.
[Recommend watching the video for the following section]
So now, if you’re using the chrome version, you’ll click the plugin icon. You’ll now have a box that looks like this, where you can select what you’re going to record the tab or the full screen, whether you’re going to have the webcam in the corner, or just use the screen or screen and the camera only, which microphone and camera you’re going to use and a few Advanced Options, then you start recording and it warns you about the five minute limit.
I’m going to record the entire scree. It might ask you for permission to use the microphone or the camera first time but and then you’re going.
So now I’m recording a five minute video. Once you finish recording this, you can cancel obviously, or pause the video, but once you finished recording, it’ll automatically close the recording and take you to the relevant page for that video. If you were happy with what you did, you can immediately copy that video link and put it into chat or an email and give it to somebody. You can also trim the video if you want to remove some of the start or the end (or the middle). It’s a very basic editor. You can also change the name of the video, or add a description if you like.
So, it’s that simple. Obviously, video processing and stuff needs to happen, but that’s not happening on your own computer. That’s a very expensive process and it’s just happening on the servers. It’s done very quickly. As soon as you stop recording, you basically have a link you can share immediately, which is much faster than recording it on your own hard drive, then editing it and re-uploading it to YouTube or somewhere else.
So that’s the last reason I really like Loom – how simple it actually is to use and to share.
I hope that was useful. I do recommend checking out Loom or its alternatives for asynchronous communication between remote teams. I’ve found it really great working with clients and my own teammates recently, and I fully recommend it!
The software that you use for productivity are not as important as the systems that you use. See the video or read the transcription below.
Recently a client asked me “what’s some good software to make me more productive at work?”. And to that, I had to say, “it depends”.
What are you trying to do? What problems are you having? Because software is only a tool. It’s the systems that are more important. It’s how you put that software together; how it fits into your day and into your workflow [that’s important].
The system is the way you do things. It’s your habits. It’s the processes. It’s the way you communicate with your clients, your customers, and your team. It’s how you manage your work, your day, your energy during the day. And software is just a part of that system. No matter how good it is or how expensive the productivity software is, is not going to give you a system. And that’s because no software is complete. No tool is perfect. You can’t build an entire house with just a hammer or even a multi-tool.
No one thing can get you the perfect combination [of features] for your work because everybody’s work is different and no company could make enough money designing the perfect tool for just one customer. So you’re going to have to integrate several different pieces of software. Even if you’ve got the one almost perfect productivity system, you’re still going to get some requests in through email.
Most email clients nowadays like Gmail or Outlook have integrated task tracking software that’s good at reminding you about unanswered emails or responses or setting a To Do list based on the words it finds in an email, and while that’s very impressive it’s not a complete system either. It can’t scale very well and it can’t cover every eventuality. So you’re going to need something that you can trust fully to be the core of your system.
In fact, I’d almost argue the only complete software is something like Windows, Linux, or the Apple operating systems. They do literally everything. But what are you going to do with that? That won’t make you more productive at all. You’re going to have to get more specific than that!
So let’s get a bit more specific. I just mentioned a few softwares. So I’m a big fan of Google Sheets. I’ve used Notion and I think it’s great, but I already had my own system, so it didn’t add anything to my workflow and so I stopped using Notion. todoist is great as well but a similar story; I already had my systems, largely based on Google sheets, and so those are perfect for me.
That’s because Google sheets or Microsoft Excel (Sheets is free) are incredibly flexible. If you look up some code, or you’re able to code, you can go even further with them, but even the standard spreadsheets are very flexible. There’s a lot you can do with them, but you have to set it up your own way in your own system.
And then it might not even add that much for you if you’re someone working on your own and you’ve already some perfect pen and paper systems, you work well in a written diary, maybe you use the Bullet Journal/ “Bujo” techniques, then maybe Sheets wouldn’t even add much for you if there’s not much number crunching to be done in your work.
So I’m saying you need to get more specific to the problem. So, okay. What about some software aimed at improving your focus? There are browser plugins like StayFocusd or News Feed Eradicator and they can be great at limiting your use of social media or other websites.
StayFocusd can block anything. For example, you just manually set it and it gives you a certain amount of time for the day that you’re allowed to spend on that site and it can be very useful, but then that’s good productivity software IF you were having a problem with browsing websites. If your systems are already habitual enough and disciplined, and you didn’t have problems with browsing the wrong websites during work hours, then those softwares won’t add anything to your day.
When it comes to tracking your time and billable hours for clients, you could be using something like Clockify or Harvest, and they can be great, particularly if you’ve more clients or you want to integrate the stopwatch directly with billing the client automatically. But you could equally be using a pen and paper and a stopwatch very well for years and have no interest in this type of software because your system is already in place and it’s working perfectly well for you.
So to answer that client’s question – what’s some good software that could make them productive? Well it’s whatever fixes the specific problem that you’re having, whatever saves you the most time, and whatever integrates the best with the existing systems that you have.
How Open Loops Destroy your ability to Focus, and what to do about it.
Hi, how’s it going? I hope you’re well.
So I’m trying something new today. I’ve been a blog writer on and off for the last number of years, but I’ve never done a video blog or “Vlog”, if you will. So welcome to this… This is what that is [actually this is the transcription of that vlog, but let’s not be pedantic].
What I wanted to talk about today is open loops and how they destroy your ability to focus.
So what are open loops?
They’re ongoing processes that don’t have a resolution that are taking up space in our mind. So if you use the analogy of a computer, it’s like multiple browser tabs being open that are each consuming some of the computer’s working memory. You might also have a few apps running in the background, maybe even some larger programs like video editors that are still open, not being used, but they’re just holding something that needs to be finished that you haven’t saved and closed down on the computer. That’s all using the computer’s RAM and it’s reducing the computer’s ability to do work.
A very similar process happens in our own minds when we’re trying to hang on to too many thoughts at the same time as focusing on the one thing we really want to be doing right now. So for example, these might be; you have to remember to add honey to your shopping list and you’ve to remember to call back Dave later. You don’t have these things written down anywhere and in the meantime, you’re trying to just spend a half an hour to get this one job finished that you’re trying to focus on all that [distraction]’s still going on.
And there might be several, several other things as well to add to that. So open loops can really reduce our ability to focus on what we’re trying to get done and really just make any job take a lot longer.
This is also called the Zeigarnik Effect after the psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik who studied it.
So we want to be able to close these open loops and get back some of our focus.
So what would we do to diminish that?
The key thing here is to have systems that you can trust where your brain knows that those open tasks, even though they’re not finished yet, they’re ‘handled’. They’re okay to forget about. That’s the point you want to get to.
So for example, if I’m focusing on preparing the notes for making this video and something else comes to mind, like I have to remember to buy something downtown later, I have a little space on my daily tracker for notes and another one for distractions. The thoughts that come up and derail me from what I’m trying to focus on, those will get written down there.
And I know that once I’m finished this task, or once the timer goes off for the Pomodoro technique I’m doing, then I’m going to take those notes and put them on my actual to-do list, and I know that from there they’re going to get handled. I can trust that system. I’ve been using it long enough that once I write it down, it’s just out of my mind and I can focus back on what I was doing.
The “Two Minute Rule”
Now, if you’re not in the middle of a Pomodoro sprint or some other timed work and you’re in your daily life, you have a bit of flexibility, you’re cooking dinner or whatever, there’s something called the “Two Minute Rule”.
It’s that if a task that just came to mind takes less than two minutes to complete (maybe it’s putting away the mail, filing something into your filing cabinet or sending a quick text or remind somebody about something); if you can finish that task and close that loop in two minutes or less – you should just do it immediately. There’s no need to write it down. There’s no need to add it to a planner. Just get it done. Get it out of the way and close that loop as soon as possible.
Credit where credit’s due; David Allen talked about that in his book, Getting Things Done, (the two minute rule). So full credit to him for that idea. It’s become widespread thanks to the popularity of the “GTD” (getting things done) method over the last 20 years.
Delegate to close Open Loops
And the third way that we can handle open loops, or at least some of us can, is to Delegate it. Depending on what the task that comes to mind is, again, it might be better to write just that quick note if you’re in the middle of the timed sprint, but then after that sprint, you want to delegate it to someone who can have responsibility for getting that task done. And it might only take two minutes to delegate if you have employees, or if you have a virtual assistant that you trust, or maybe your kids if it’s a household task, you want to just ask them to get it done.
It comes back to the first thing I said, which is that you have to have systems that you trust to get it done. Otherwise the loop is still open.
So if your employees, or your virtual assistants are completely reliable, then fantastic! You can trust that that job’s going to get done. I then used the example of delegating it to your kids. Now, if your kids are fully trustworthy to finish whatever task you’ve given them, clean their room or whatever, great, you can trust that that open loop is now closed.
Otherwise you might need a new system. If you’re going to have to follow up on that later. It’s not a closed loop. But maybe you have a system for that where every evening at 9:30 PM (if these are teenage kids), you check in with them that their chores are done. You just have to ask them to do it once. Then you come back later and ask “is it done or is it not?”. Maybe there’s accountability for that. Maybe there isn’t. Just a quick, random example of a way you could handle that…
So that’s it! Just a few thoughts on what open loops are and how they derail us from our focused work and some thoughts on how to close them. I hope that’s useful for you guys, all the best.
Talk to you soon.
Please leave a comment and let me know what you thought of this new format.
What follows is the transcript of an interview I conducted nearly two years ago, so in 2019, pre-COVID. I was speaking to Treasa Spragg about “struggle porn”, sleep, naps, deep work, and getting the most important thing done each day.
Of, if you prefer, listen to the audio version.
The audio was recorded in her car by the side of the road in Dublin city, and it was intended only as the basis for a written blog post – so this is in no way professional audio quality. You can occasionally hear other cars, and we even had to move the car ourselves at one point.
I’m also not a professional interviewer (nor am I trying to be). So… excuses made… But I’ve decided to make the audio (and its transcription) available now anyway as there’s a lot of great wisdom that Treasa shared here, that people struggling with sleep and work in 2021 will find helpful.
As many people, myself included, prefer to listen to an interview rather than read it, I’ve provided it in audio format on YouTube, with its transcription available here. The transcription is of course more searchable, for quotes, etc.
I’m Treasa Spragg. I am the CEO of Revolution Project Ltd, and I basically get people moving and then I help them to sleep optimally.
We were going to talk about struggle porn, so, what exactly is struggle porn? Where does it come from, and how is it at odds with science?
Do you know what’s hilarious? The guy who’s responsible for wrecking our sleep is… Of course, the term struggle porn did not exist back then, but in 1879 when Edison created the first light bulb, he set us all off on this whole thing of thinking that we could use the hours of darkness to be “productive.” He famously used to say that he only needed three or four hours of sleep a night and that we shouldn’t be focusing on losing sleep, we should be focusing on a better use of that time. But since then, you’ve had so many people, unfortunately, mostly males of no particular age, but who do the whole hustle and grind thing and think, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead. You can get by on three, four or five hours a night.”
We’ve had some famous people like Margaret Thatcher, Trump, people like that who sleep very little, but all of the scientific research shows you’re going to be chronically sleep-deprived if you have less than six hours. Seven to eight is optimal for the majority of people. There are ways to find out precisely how much you need, but most of the global population would fall between seven and eight hours. More than nine is as detrimental to your health as less than six.
I wasn’t aware that more was bad… And is it true that there’s a fraction of 1% of people who do get by and are fully healthy on two hours, three hours?
There are people that are called super sleepers. It’s a genetic anomaly and there have been very, very few of these people in the world, but they genuinely only need an hour and a half…
Which is one sleep cycle, is that right?
That’s only one sleep cycle, yeah. That’s genuinely all they need. There is an interesting opposite phenomenon called the fatal familial insomnia, that is genetic, so it hits and it has only appeared, I think, in Italian families, where it just has a sudden onset. It could be in your 30s, and very, very quickly, basically, you develop really bad insomnia. And then, of course, you have all the resultant health side-effects, including dementia and people die! That’s sort of the opposite end of the scale. But most people who say that they can get by on three and four hours, if you put them in a sleep clinic, and if you actually got some researchers to do cognitive tests, you’d find that that isn’t the case. The Sleep Doctor, that’s his title, in the U.S., his sleep cycle is only 78 minutes. It’s rather funny for a sleep doctor, but he actually only needs five of those cycles, so he does get more time in his day than the average person.
Right. Because it’s five times 12?
It’s, well, five times 78 minutes.
But he’s saving five times 12, because an average sleep cycle is 90 minutes, so he’s saving an hour per night?
Oh, yeah, he is. Yeah, yeah. He gets more bang out of his day. You need five sleep cycles per night. Very unique things happen in the sleep cycles, and even the way the way that we have more deep sleep in the early part of the night, which is why it’s a really good idea to try to get to bed around 10:00 as opposed to midnight or 2:00 AM. And then we have more of the dreaming. We spend more time in dreaming in the later stages… But even the light sleep, particularly the light sleep and wakefulness a couple of hours before you wake up are also really important.
The different stages all have different purposes. I mean, scientists are still asking, “Why do we sleep?”. There are still so many questions around, why do we sleep? We’re only just beginning to find out things about dreams and things like that. But yeah, we need the five cycles.
Nick Littlehales works with football teams, Olympic cycling teams, all of this kind of stuff. He will say, “Look, it’s not optimal, but if you must, then you can get by with four good nights and then three nights where you’re only getting four cycles. But you make sure you adjust your time for going to bed and waking up so that you get four cycles.” And then you have what he calls a “controlled recovery period” the next day where you’re getting a full cycle in optimal conditions.
So these three and five hours sleepers are just supplementing with coffee during the week, and then they’re crashing for most of Saturday and Sunday morning. And then they’re effectively jet lagged come Monday.
Yeah, and it doesn’t actually work. You get into a really bad cycle with trying to offset your tiredness with caffeine. You’re going to go into just a really bad cycle because all caffeine does is block your sleep drive and then it’ll keep you up because it can hang about. It has a half-life of seven to eight hours depending on your physiology.
So, don’t take coffee in the afternoon…
Yeah. It’s best to have no coffee after 2:00PM. I mean you do get some anomalies of course. You always will. We’re all slightly different physiologically, but the general rule is [no coffee after 2pm]
Do you follow your own advice? You get [five sleep cycles] even with kids; [no coffee]?
Oh, yeah, I almost don’t drink coffee at all. I’ll have a decaf sometimes, but I really have to hunt down a decaf that hasn’t been chemically treated to be decaffeinated. But yeah, no, herbal teas, and turmeric lattes, and decaf tea after… Yeah, about two o’clock.
Yeah, I’ve never been a coffee drinker. Although recently, I found a jar in the press after someone moved out.
Oh, funny, yeah.
I was really tired one day. I was like, “I’ll try it.” And because I don’t drink it, it’s like-
Oh, yeah, it has a huge effect on you.
Yeah! Initially. But then, it’s just going to wear off.
It does. Well, it basically blocks the tiredness signal in your brain. When it wears off then-
…it doesn’t make you less tired, it’s just that you don’t realize it for a while.
Exactly. It just blocks that information from you. And then when it skulks off a way to its corner, all of a sudden you get this message like, “Whoa. You’re this tired.” Instead of the tiredness creeping up on you gradually.
Once you actually realize, “Look, it’s been telling us fake news for years essentially.” That’s what coffee has been doing. See, a lot of us, we’re all ritualized. Every habit, whether it’s a good habit or bad habit, it’s a ritual, so it’s something that we’ve become so used to doing. It does take… I say to people, “Don’t worry about shifting something by five or 15 minutes. It might feel as nothing, but once you’ve done it for a month, you’ve actually made a massive difference.”
I will have people who are like, “I love an espresso after dinner at eight o’clock at night.” I literally just ask them to bring it back in 15-minute chunks at a time. Or, if their dinner is always late, then just instead of having the espresso, moving it on to something that’s a substitute that they actually enjoy, so that you don’t have to do it in one fell swoop. I find that that’s like New Year’s resolutions. You’ll say all of these things, and then it’s too much too fast. Psychologically, we don’t like pain.
Funny, I generally am a cold turkey person. I’m a huge believer in habits as well, like if I’m learning something difficult, like a new piece of music or something. I don’t know when I’ll get there, but I’m going to do a little bit every day and I’ll get there. But then whether the thing is like, “Oh, I take cold showers now so that’s what I do every day.” I’m not doing it once a week, and then twice a week-
Yeah, you’re doing it every day.
Yeah, straight away.
Excellent. Did you read some Wim Hof stuff or how did you get into the cold showers?
I had heard things about it, but even conflicting things like, “Cold showers are great to wake you up, cold showers are great before bed to get you to sleep.” I was like, “No, come on, [they can’t both be true].” But in the end, I was trying to get some work done at 10:00 PM or something. I was really tired. I was sitting in the chair. I was thinking, “I can’t, I can’t. What will wake me up? Splash the face with water! It doesn’t feel like enough. I need it all over me. I need to really cool down. Do you know what? I will try this [cold shower thing]. I’ll do 10 seconds. I’ll make it 10 seconds.
I started the habit then, and I’ve continued it every morning instead of coffee. I rarely do it in the afternoon anymore, but it gets me right up. Even if I have only had five or six hours. [Though] I’m generally an eight-hour sleeper.
I mean, the thing is that depends on your age as well. The thing is that once kids go from being kids to being teenagers, their circadian rhythms are knocked out by three hours. All of a sudden kids have genuinely been feeling sleepy at 7:00 or 8:00. And then all of a sudden out of nowhere, it’s 10:00, 11:00, midnight, which really frustrates a lot of parents. But once you realize that this is something they have no control over, they’re genuinely not tired until later, but they still absolutely need their sleep. And so schools shouldn’t be starting as early as they do, but the gradual restoration then of your circadian rhythm back to a decent time can be something that people don’t focus on. So you can come out of your teenage years into your 20s and you still have this thing of going to bed too late and it requires moving back. What’s optimum for our bodies is that because we do have, the circadian clock actually is a 24.5 hour clock, but it gets reset every day by the melatonin.
It is optimal if you go to bed at the same time every day and wake up at the same time every day. When you start doing that, what happens is even at the weekends, I’ll wake up at 5:50AM naturally on the weekends. I might lounge in bed a bit longer and just be thinking and ruminating, but I have hours to get stuff done before the kids wake up, which is brilliant. But if I, then, am going out, I’ll have a nap that afternoon and I’ll have a nap the following day. But it is better for your body. It’s better for your brain function.
So if you’re going to be out late, you make sure you get an evening nap first or something?
Yeah, get a nap the previous afternoon. You don’t stay in bed longer. You get up at your normal time, but I would definitely then have another nap in the afternoon.
What’s your nap alarm clock set for? 25 minutes?
It depends. Basically a half hour if it’s just a general day and for whatever reason, I’m feeling tired, that’ll happen once in a while. But if I’ve gone out to salsa or something and I’m back late, then I’ll try to have a full cycle and I’ll set the alarm for 90 minutes and make sure the bedroom is dark, and quiet, and everything.
So you’ll get one full cycle.
Get one full cycle, yeah.
I can’t remember where I heard it, but my nap timer is set to 25 minutes because you don’t want to hit 30 and be the first third into your cycle because you’ll wake up more tired than when you began if you allow yourself to hit 30 minutes or something?…
Well, it’s if you go beyond the 30 and particularly 60, or 30 to 60 seems to be really challenging for people because you probably have gone into just that part of the cycle that you don’t want to be woken up from. You always want to be woken up towards the top of the cycle.
Is there a name for that part of it?
Oh, yeah, yeah. It’s the deep wave, so it’s your deep sleep. It’s the slow wave of sleep. It’s just if somebody will call you, they’ll really have to shake you, or the alarm goes off, it pulls you out of it. Yeah, which is challenging.
So, 30 or 90 minute naps, but you don’t really want to be in the middle of that?
Correct. There’s something that Matthew Walker recommends, but very, very… just once in a while. If you’re very tired, but you do have to be productive, he advises taking a cup of coffee-
Nappuccino! Taking a coffee, having 30 minute nap. You wake up, the coffee will hit your brain in 20 to 30 minutes, and, Bob’s your uncle, you’re going to be very productive for the next little while. I mean, the thing is that caffeine has been shown to have… It’s the prefrontal cortex that it affects and it definitely helps your cognitive function, but then all of the other side effects cancel that out. It’s just if you have to give a presentation, or something or other, or something’s happened and you need to be-
Special circumstances, yeah. You don’t want to be doing stuff like that all the time.
Yeah, it’s not a daily ritual to be to getting into.
The angle was struggle porn as well, so to draw it back to that. Sleep is the main thing struggle porn is attacking, I suppose, but-
Well, I think as well, it’s the longer working day where people feel like, I think especially, I don’t want to necessarily namecheck, but there were a lot of talkers who were basically like “hustle and grind endlessly for five years, and then you’d have it made and you’d be able to coast”.
Five years of your life is actually a very, very long time in terms of doing a lot of damage to your health and your relationships. We always have to think, “What’s the cost of our life?” If you were to sit down and write, “Well, what’s really, really important for me?” The majority of people will say, “My health, my family, my friends,” maybe a passion cause or something. And then it’s like-
“…but it’s not my internet marketing business”.
Yeah. But it’s also like, “Well, okay, if I’m going to basically hustle like crazy for five years and disregard my health, not take care of anything that I love, my family, my friends, anything like that, is that life, is it worth it?” The thing is that you never know when something is going to happen to you. I think you have to always live like you have this present moment in this day, and that’s it, and it’s wonderful to have it. So I think you always have to, if your values are, or the things that make you really happy, if you know what they are, I think they have to guide you. And then at least every day you’re going to be happy and you’re going to be close to people. It might take a little longer to get to your goal, but not necessarily. I think if you create the right conditions-
Consistently do the most important thing every day and a few other, two or three tertiary important tasks, you’ll be getting there as well.
Cal Newport has two amazing books on Deep Work and Digital Minimalism. But with Deep Work, he talks about the fact that you have to train your brain almost as if you’re training your body in a gym to be able to do completely focused deep work. I love the thought of a power hour. I’ve known about that for a long time, but he was talking about you can extend your capabilities, but it really takes a lot of focus and training to get from one hour to four. But he thinks four hours is maximum that anybody can do in a day. That means anyone going into an office and working from 9:00 to 5:00, the most really good, deep, productive, excellent work you can get out of them is four hours. All the rest of the time is administrative, it’s relational, it’s meetings that push things along a little bit. But the deep unfocused work where everything, all the magic really happens, you can’t get more than four out of somebody.
Yeah. The thing is as well is that the proof’s in the pudding. I mean, he’s 37, he’s a professor, and he’s actually produced more papers than is the norm for somebody of his age and experience. Obviously, with the books as well. That’s where his second book was really, the second one that I read, Digital Minimalism, was really useful because it talks about the attention economy and what you’re going to do as an individual about that. How do I guard my own time? How do I guard the input that comes into me? How can I make sure that I’m choosing the input rather than just leaving it open by just saying, “Go on world,” via all these social media platforms?
Your mental diet.
Yeah, yeah, completely. I think it’s really important.
So he was saying four hours total in the day or was it a four hour blitz?
Well, it’s a four hour [deep work] blitz, but he reckoned that’s the most that somebody could do. Yeah, everything else would be… Yeah. Even for his office hours for students to come and see him, there are two set days of the week at these times. He’s very clear on the time he gets for family, and the time he gets for his own health, and things like that as well.
He doesn’t even do email. It’s really funny. He has all these caveats before you email him. Email is the only way. He has no social media whatsoever. You won’t find him on anything. If you need to get him, it’s via email. But he asks you, “Has your question being answered here? Or is it about this? Or is this something interesting that we can collaborate on? And if you think it passes all of these markers, send me an email. And if I agree with you, I’ll contact you.” So that there’s no onus on him whatsoever to respond to the emails that he does get.
Right. That’s Tim Ferriss’ way of doing it as well.
One person I found very interesting though is Arnold Schwarzenegger because he was challenged on the “sleep faster, no one needs more than six hours” thing that he’s very famous for saying that in graduation talks he’s given. I was like, I love Arnold Schwarzenegger for so many reasons and so many ways, but I never agreed with him on that. I was like, “You are very successful, but it seems to be in spite of this rather than because of it.” He did in that, it was a Tim Ferriss interview of 2017 I think. He said, “Look, that’s what I needed [personally].” He conceded a bit that , “I always just woke up. It’s six hours OF sleep, not ‘go to bed and get up six hours later'”. It depends how long it takes you to get to sleep and six is just what I needed. And if you need more, you should probably get more. Some people need five and that’s fine.” And so he sort of conceded on that. But had you ever… I’m sure you’ve heard him say that, and what would have been your opinions?
I would have said, “Listen, you either speak in generalities or you mention the generalities, the general population need between seven and eight, general population needs five cycles of 90 minutes. And there are always outliers always, but you never, ever prescribe.” In my workshops, I show people how to actually figure out without going to a sleep clinic, how to figure out what optimal for them. Most people can figure it out in a week. For some people, it takes a bit longer because you have to have a couple of static weeks where you don’t have anything unusual going on and you can completely control when you go to bed.
It’s like a holiday week.
A holiday week or even just a week where you’re like, “I don’t have anything social going on or I normally go out on a Friday night, but this particular Friday, I’m not going to.”
What if night owls have to get up for 7:00 to get to work by 9:00? They won’t be able to figure that out on their own.
This stuff was really hard because one of my best friends, she lives in Dubai, which actually suits her time clock a lot better. But because she works for herself and because her work covers a whole lot of time zones, she is very, definitely a night owl. She does her work between 10:00 PM and 5:00 AM. She will generally then sleep until midday, one o’clock. She’s absolutely hugely productive.
In general, because we live in this kind of world, it’s unfortunate for night owls, for people who are… That’s their chronotype is to be a night owl. It’s really challenging because the reality is that we do need to… It’s really tough. I would be all for schools starting later. Do you know what was so daft? My 15-year-old, Monday through Thursday this entire academic year , her first period has been maths, which is crazy. They’re not fit to engage at all. But schools should definitely be starting later for kids. This is where flexible working comes in and remote working. If you’re a night owl naturally, you can most likely arrange with your boss that you don’t start working at 10:00 AM, which is fantastic.
Yeah. That’s been my experience… I started work at 10:00am. I’m more of a night owl, not radically, but closer on that end and would start work at 10:00am when I was doing the game dev stuff. I found my brain was on by then. Now I’ve been like, “Oh, by 10:00, so many things can happen to derail you.” So now I’m trying to get up at 8:00 and do work from 8:30 until 10:00. Just get that one most important thing done. Then I’ll move off and try other things.
Can I ask you what that one most important thing is? Is this one most important thing that you’ve determined or is it a reaction to an email or something coming in?
The idea is that I don’t even check email till 10:00 AM.
So I’ve written it down the night before on my spreadsheet. I’ll color green if I get it done. Color it red if I missed it that day. As I look back through the month, I’m like, “It’s mostly green.”
On Wednesday, it’s often been ‘write a blog’, but I might reprioritize that now, but the idea was just ‘get the blog done in the morning. Don’t let it drag on all day’. Other days, it would be something that should take an hour and it gets done first… If the most important thing is that I email one person a response. I’m not going to make that the one hour task.
Oh gosh, yeah.
So, a rather abrupt end there unfortunately. I could speak for hours more with Treasa, and there’s so much that she touched upon that I’d love to ask her more about. Like “wait, why exactly is getting more than 9 hours of sleep as bed as getting less than 6?”, but that will have to wait for another interview, I suppose.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this format, and that those listening on YouTube did as well. It’s the first time I’ve done a dual posting as audio and text, and I think I will be doing more of it in future. It makes sense to recycle the content to reach more people, whatever their media preference.
If you have any comments or questions (particularly for Treasa – maybe we could do a follow-up, more professional interview) please leave them in the comments.
Just a short post to mark that yesterday I launched the first “SUPER-Productive” Newsletter, containing a modest amount of news, the monthly top tip, and a free resource, the Habit Tracker Template.
The template comes as a download link in the email, and signing up below will send you that newsletter instantly, as well as any future ones. You can of course unsubscribe at any time.
I felt that the newsletter was a better way to keep in touch with those who want a little boost of motivation and some useful tools once per month. If that’s you, please sign up below and let’s stay in touch! You can always reach me on the contact page, or by replying to any newsletter.
As I said before, the business took a back burner while I studied a Masters in Consulting in Paris. I experienced lockdown there, and it actually wasn’t so bad at all for me, thankfully. I was busy enough with university never to get bored, with a few friends remaining around the residence, and a view of the Eiffel Tower within my 1km permitted walking radius. Not too shabby! And when lockdown lifted and exams were over, I had the once-in-history opportunity to explore Paris without it being full of traffic or tourists. Silver linings!
Anyway, throughout the year I did only a small amount of contract work for this company, and ignored the blog. It’s important to prioritize the most important parts of a business and not try to do everything!! Blogging is a ‘nice-to-have’, especially if doing it prevents you from pursuing actual cash.
Since exams finished in May, I’ve resumed writing my eBook on Productivity. I’ve also started a day job with which to pay the bills and finish my Masters program (in lieu of a thesis, you do a work semester and a report on it).
An hour per day of focused work
So, what I now do is dedicate the first hour of my day to my own business, and then start the day job afterwards, with evenings being my own for relaxing or meeting friends. This way I work on my own stuff while I’m most fresh, and before distractions start to arrive (I don’t even turn on my phone before I’ve finished this hour).
One hour per day may not sound like a lot, but it’s 7 hours per week of focused work on the Most Important Things in the business. If you work a 40 hour week you still get at best 5 hours per day of productive work, for 25 hours per week maximum, and it’s frankly never even that much. Spending 7 hours per week minimum, of focused work, makes this about a 1/3rd-time job, focused on the activities that will move the needle.
Since I’ve started I’ve written several thousand words for the eBook, taught two workshops, arranged for more upcoming ones, and build a couple of websites for clients.
The trick is consistency! And it’s easiest to be consistent when you build a habit around what you’re trying to do, and schedule it in that part of the day where it’s least likely to ever get disrupted.
Working from home is of course a great help! Any time that would have been lost commuting has been regained, and what time remains is often a bit more flexbible. I’ve long been an advocate of remote work, despite its challenges. I’m even giving free talks on the topic to workplace groups at the moment. Please get in touch if you’d like to discuss this.
Given that I’m only working about 7hrs per week (but consistently and sustainably), I’m focusing now on coaching only one topic – Productivity! I’m the most passionate about it, and in the time of COVID and work-from-home, it seems like it will provide huge benefit to people.
So please keep an eye on the site for what comes next. Join the newsletter (coming soon), follow me on Twitter, or just email me if you’d like to know more about anything discussed above.
Well, this is the first post in a while. With all the classes for my Masters moved online thanks to coronavirus, there’s a bit more time on everyone’s hands. Actually, I say that, but the remote work consulting side of things has understandably started to take off too. But this post is about becoming more sustainable! How come?
Last week saw St.Patrick’s Day(… well, technically, there wasn’t much to see). Some very inspiring friends of mine are moving for people not to just wear green and drink green beer, but to DO something green on this day each year, raise awareness around sustainability, and inspire people. As my action, I wrote a guide for our university’s CSR department on 17 things people could do to become more Green and sustainable… and then I had to rewrite to be a bit more aware of social distancing… and then still got complaints because French readers thought I was encouraging them to break quarantine. Ah well, no good deed goes unpunished.
So, please, take this as a general guide on how to be more sustainable any time of the (normal) year, and hold off on breaking quarantine until it’s safe to do so. Many of the suggestions are things you can do at home or online. And so, let’s get to it.
17 things that you can do on St.Patrick’s Day (or any day) to live a greener life!
Set Dark mode for Windows, Firefox and many other applications. Many of our favourite apps and web browsers can be set to Dark Mode. It takes more energy to light a whole screen up white than to simply keep it black. Consider searching how to set Windows 10/ macOS or many other apps to Dark Mode.
Nature Cleanup. Take some reusable bags to a park, beach, or river, and spend some time making it beautiful. This is even more fun with friends! As a bonus, when the community sees you doing this, they get warm and fuzzy feelings, and are that much more inspired to do something themselves.
Plant A Tree. If you have a garden,or live near a wooded area, consider getting a sapling, grabbing your spade, and planting a tree. They look beautiful, provide homes for birds, and, of course, produce the oxygen that we need to live. Help offset your carbon footprint today.
Start an urban garden (grow your own food).It’s spring time! Even if you don’t have a garden there are some things you can grow for yourself at home in potted plants on a balcony or windowsill. Imagine growing your own tomatoes, spinach, or strawberries! Yum!
Start a petition. When people act together they can make a bigger difference. Maybe you’re finding that with the quarantines you get more work done at home on your own timetable, having set up remote work/work from home arrangements. Getting enough people to encourage your employers and/or government to support the practice will mean less commuting and carbon emissions in the future. Remember that contacting your local elected representatives at any time is something that they want you to do, and that helps democracy. The representatives want to know what their voters are thinking. If the environment is important to you, tell them! You don’t always have to wait until the next election.
Get a quote to improve the insulation of your home, or to install a solar panel. This makes heating bills cheaper and uses less fossil fuel energy from the grid! Search for you local suppliers today and get a quote.
Pick up some Bamboo Toothbrushes. Did you know that plastic isn’t your only option for toothbrushes? You can buy biodegradable toothbrushes made from bamboo that work just as well as the real thing. Ask in your local health-food shop, or order them online. Learning from the previous points above, maybe even start a petition asking the big supermarkets in your area to start stocking bamboo toothbrushes. Let them know that there’s a demand for them.
Shop local. Farmers markets, smaller stores, etc. Remember to consider where our food and clothing comes from. Just transporting it half-way around the world to you means that you’re making a higher carbon footprint buying big-store clothing and exotic fruit. When we shop at farmers markets and buy from local manufacturers we’re supporting the local economy and the environment. When you have a choice, try to buy local.
Plan your next vacation locally. We all love to hop on a plane and see far-off places. It’s exciting, but it also takes its toll on the environment. Yet how much do you know about the world within 150km of your home? How many fascinating stories, battles, castles, food/wine tours, hikes, and festivals can be found within driving distance of your house? Learning more about where you come from can be a great way to get in touch with your heritage, save money on flights, protect the environment, and not have to worry about airport security.
Learn a vegetarian or vegan recipe. With all this extra time at home, we should have plenty of opportunity to try out tasty new recipes. Whatever your views on the morals of eating meat, we should remember that the keeping of animals, especially cattle, has a huge impact on the environment.
Demand for meat means more farms, which means trees are cut down to clear farmland, which means that methane-gas-producing cattle are kept for years, then killed and transported all over the word.
When you consider all this together, we realise that replacing just one meal per week with a veggie/vegan alternative is one of the most impactful changes we can make in our lives. After one, maybe you’ll even love the recipe and double your impact by replacing two meals per week…
Unplug your TV, PC, etc at night.We’ve all heard that leaving these devices on standby mode continues to waste electricity, yet we all still leave them on. It’s just convenient. Well, maybe this St.Patrick’s Day before bed, go and turn off all of these devices at the wall. Every little bit helps, and can inspire others, especially impressionable children. Who knows? Maybe you’ll start a new green nightly habit tonight.
Take a group to the woods. Appreciate nature. Depending on what country you’re living in right now, you may not be able to get to the woods (thanks Corona. Sorry Italy and Spain), but in Ireland and France (where I am currently), you still can, though public transportation isn’t advisable.
At any rate, going to the woods solo or with a group of friends can renew our sense of wonder and love for the natural world and remind us what we should be fighting to protect. Spending time in nature has also been proven to boost our happiness and sense of calm – something a lot of people could probably use these days.
Learn how to make your own cleaning products. Did you know that you can make your own soap, toilet cleaner, and several other cleaning products at home using things like baking soda, vinegar, and lemon? Pouring less chemicals down the drain protects our water supply. Get started with this simple blog post.
Share this PDF. It’s all well and good doing our part, but we can’t save the world alone. The best thing we can do is multiply our impact by inspiring others (without being preachy, or showing off – because this just alienates people). We’re all in this together!
And that’s it! Easy!
Well done, everyone! Everything Green that you do makes the world a better place just for you having been in it.
Hello all. A long time since a post has gone up here, so a perfect chance to review the 2019 goals set in January’s blog and explain the reason for the absence all at once.
The Big Shift – Msc in Consulting
Well, the big event that changed everything for me and the business in 2019 was that I decided, during the Summer, to move to Paris and study a Masters in Consulting with IESEG from late August, until at least the middle of 2020.
Prior to making the decision, I found that I was really enjoying working with the clients I was coaching, and that I loved hearing about their businesses and helping to solve problems, but I had so far struggled to find enough clients to make the business viable by itself, and (this may just be my false perception) felt that I lacked an immediate credibility because I hadn’t a consulting or coaching qualification, even though the clients I have worked with have all made great progress and given valuable testimonials. Anyway, that led me to get a quick Level 6 Cert in “Train the Trainer” in the early Summer, and to decide to invest in levelling up my career by getting serious about consulting with a Level 9 Masters.
I had last posted about Remote Work, stating that I intended for that to become my coaching niche, but as I made the Masters my focus, it didn’t make sense to try to launch a new strategic direction like that without having the time to give it sustained effort for at least a year.
The first few months – dialling it back
As I sorted myself out logistically for moving out of my apartment in Wicklow and overseas to Paris, I was far too occupied to continue writing blog entries, which I had previously chosen to treat as nice-to-haves rather than a core part of the business strategy, as they rarely produce clients, though they do provide credibility.
I ran another of my “Business 101” workshops in Dublin before leaving in August, and continued working with the few clients I already had, but knew that I’d now have to treat the coaching as part-time, and worked to figure out the best way to keep it going.
The Plan – Ebook, Productivity
Once classes commenced, I had to figure out where in the week I could take time to spend on the business, and what I would do in that time. From my time in the games industry I remembered the phrase “embrace your constraints”. They give you clear lines to paint between and make a lot of decisions easier.
Practically, this meant that I wouldn’t be able to do very much to grow the business or handle many clients, so what would be the most valuable activities that I could do over the year to advance it? After reading Key Person of Influence by Daniel Priestley I decided that writing an Ebook (already one of my 2019 goals) would be the best use of my time.
Since I was trying to maximise my limited time, I was already pulling out all the tricks and tools (and trying some new ones) to become more productive, so choosing ‘Productivity’ as my topic seemed like the perfect answer. Of course, I asked a few colleagues some sample questions to gauge the idea, but found that most of the information I’d gathered over the years was news to almost anyone I spoke to. Someone may journal, but not know the Pomodoro technique. Someone might know binaural beats, but not use chunking, etc. Most especially, nobody seemed to have discovered the best ways to slot all these techniques together.
I also found that my residence in Paris (The Student Hotel) try to put on montly talks so I volunteered to teach a quick workshop on productivity techniques for students in October. It was only midly well attended, but everyone there took away a lot from it, and in writing the notes/handouts for afterwards, I had a good start on content for the book.
The Enemy – workload
Well, no plan survives contact with the enemy. The Masters course I was on, from October until the end of classes in December, got extremely intense! I had gotten a few thousand words into my book by getting up early and writing after doing my morning routine, but as I worked on college assignments later and later into the evenings, and then past midnight, I found myself less and less productive.
You can know all the productivity techniques and diets in the world, but still nothing can top getting enough sleep for boosting your cognition and productivity.
[That reminds me, a blog on the audio interview I conducted with Treasa Spragg last Summer is still due, but it never came because the file got moved onto a hard drive that stayed in Ireland after I travelled. Will try for that again soon. My apologies to those who were looking forward to it]
Alors (as the French say), just to function I found myself cutting short my exercise routines, meditation, journalling, planning the next day’s 5 tasks (as they were just ‘finish that project before the deadline tomorrow’ there wasn’t much planning to be done – just reacting), and eventually also needed to put a pause on the writing and even some client calls, though I’ve now caught up with them again since the Christmas break.
It has made me realise that as I begin the 2nd semester, setting goals for this business during college time is unrealistic, as my time is basically not my own to a large enough extent to achieve business goals, though the Ebook can still progress along.
The plan is not to make a plan until the Summer, most likely. I know I won’t get much done before classes end in May, and I know that to finish I’ll also have to complete a 4-6 month internship/job somewhere. Given that I don’t have this yet, I can’t predict if it will be 35 hours a week (normal for France) or 60 hrs a week in some other country (sadly typical enough for game developers, masters students, entrepreneurs, and many ocnsultants… I’m tired just thinking about it).
Once I know where the job is and what it will be, I’ll keep coaching part-time and get the Ebook released, and over the coming months decide if I want to stay in consulting as the day job long-term or return to running my own coaching/consulting business full time.
Essentially, right now the business plan is just “finish the Ebook and see”.
Revenue targets – I didn’t share the figures, but naturally these were missed once I depriorisitsed the business half way through the year.
Attend a non-Irish conference – I didn’t technically, though I’m attending all sorts of business talks now in Paris, so I’ll count that as a win.
Release a free eBook download by April 30th – Missed, though this became the notes to the Productivity workshop, whose notes I give out as PDF for free if you attend the free talk, which I’ll continue to give.
Release a paid eBook by August 31st – Missed, though it is about 1/3rd written now.
Speak at 2 conferences – I didn’t speak at any conferences, but still did some public speaking.
Volunteer 1 day per month average – Accomplished! I played in a nursing home in Ireland several times, volunteered with Utopia 56 in Paris again (did a week with them in 2018) when I first arrived, and joined the school’s CSR group, giving out water bottles and commencing a 3 year plan to work towards making IESEG for sustainable and socially responsibile.
10 Climate Actions by November 15th – For the Cool Planet Champion program. Missed 10, though I completed several and now these actions roll into IESEG’s “Responsible Leaders” CSR program that I’ve joined, which actually results in more than 1 day per month. Hopefully the impact of the projects by May 2020 will have more than made up for the 10 “actions” (a very loosely defined goal that they set for us).
Health & Personal
Sober January – Done.
Run a Marathon – Not a 1 year goal. I accomplished a lot to train past a chronic ankle injury. I can run about 5km every few days now, whereas last year I couldn’t run to the end of the street. To me this is a huge success! A marathon is 42km. I still have some ways to go.
Take 1 Holiday overseas – I got to Tenerife in March. Beautiful!
Personal Budget – Kept, accurately!
I performed a few times. Twice for comedy, and produced MBI again, but didn’t have any guitar gigs this year, which makes me sad. I couldn’t even find open mic nights in Paris yet.
I learned how to juggle in just 6 weeks at the start of the year.
I still can’t do a handstand, but I’m working on it (cue ‘thud’ of me falling to the floor).
Some goals were successful, some were missed, and lessons were taken away. Overall I’m very happy with the year, though the business has necessarily been moved to the back burner for now.
I just wanted to take the time to fill people in as I still get some queries about the Ebook and other activities. Acknowledging the failures and successes publicly is great for accountability too.
That said, I won’t take the time to list out the person goals here (I didn’t last year either) as the post is getting a bit long, they’re less relevant anyway, and I’ve already mentioned that there are no SMART business goals at this time.
Remote work is a concept that’s rapidly growing in popularity. In an age where most people are living in or moving to cities, spending 15 hours per week commuting, are increasingly concerned with the environment, and where many feel as if they’ll never be able to afford a home near their jobs, maybe it’s not so hard to see why. However, remote work does present several challenges, and may not be right for every organisation or worker.
Remote work is the ability to do your job away from the office. There may not even be an office in the case of “fully distributed” teams. Thanks to books like the 4 Hour Work Week, people have an idealised vision of getting their work done in a few hours on the beach and then surfing and sipping margaritas for the rest of the day. The beautiful thing is, this is sort of possible. Remote work does facilitate more travel, ‘stay-cations’, or a ‘nomadic lifestyle’, but it’s not the norm for most remote workers. Workers tend to put in approximately the same level of hours as before, just minus the commute if they work from home. They may even still commute to a local coffee shop or co-working space like WeWork just to get out of the house.
It has its challenges, but I’m a huge advocate of Remote Work for all of the reasons that I’ll mention today (and alluded to last week). Let’s go!
Types of Work Today
Traditional: Nearly everybody has worked in this way at some point in their career. It’s work that is fully dependent on the worker’s presence at the location. Many of these jobs can’t yet be done remotely (restaurant staff, electrician, builder, tour guide) but many can (customer support, sales, marketing, programmer, anything to do with software products nearly).
Remote: The work is done entirely off-site, if there even is a site. Communication is all online or over the phone. We’re talking about home crafts businesses, digital nomad bloggers, influencers, freelance coders, etc.
Hybrid: Well, it’s what it sounds like. It blends the two extremes. Workers have the option to work from home, but are often required to come in to the office to meet clients, have team meetings, or access certain equipment or confidential information. Hybrid workers aren’t typically free to fly off to Bali at the drop of a hat, but this form of work is rapidly becoming more common as companies begin to experiment with remote work but aren’t quite ready to commit fully.
I’ve worked all 3 types. Most of the last 5 years have been Remote for me, but within that I also moved back to a traditional role for a few months. It really would have benefited from a hybrid model (it was a software company with a young staff) and while I enjoyed the role, it felt a bit like stepping back in time in certain respects.
Remote Work Benefits
According to facts presented to the Oireachtas (Irish Government) by Vanessa Tierney of remote work recruiters Abodoo, a company can save €10,000 per remote worker, while the worker saves €7,000 on average. Salary expectations amongst workers living in rural areas are 10-20% lower because of lower cost of housing. Worker attrition (globally) has been measured to improve by a whopping 40% when companies embrace remote work. Lastly, worker productivity increases by 15% when working remotely. From the company’s point of view, investing in remote or hybrid work (if applicable to the business) should be a no-brainer. Moreover, younger workers are increasingly expecting companies to have this option. Those who don’t when they could will have a hard time attracting and retaining talent in the future.
Mothers Re-entering The Workforce
Remote work is increasingly facilitating new mothers to keep their jobs or re-enter the workforce. I’m writing on the Irish context, but it’s true in many places that the costs of childcare are astronomical these days. One spouse can spend the majority of their income on childcare. In that context, it makes sense for one parent (usually the mother) to become a stay-at-home parent. Working online prevents companies from losing the valuable skills they’ve trained into their employees.
It’s a similar story with someone who suddenly has to care for an elderly parent.
I love to hate commuting. It robs us of hours of sleep just to sit in traffic inhaling fumes. We arrive to work tired and unproductive, and get home at 8pm too exhausted to do anything but eat and hit the hay. It’s bad for our mental health, bad for the environment, and bad for workplace productivity. And not to put too fine a point on it, but it carries attrition. More tired people on the roads means more accidents. Commuting kills!
The only thing I’ll say in its defence is that it’s good to get out of the house to do your work, so that you can be switched off when you’re at home. This has been a personal challenge for me, especially when I was making games.
Working remotely can solve one of the scourges of modern society. Probably the biggest “first world problem” we have. But commuting is a real problem.
Instead of forcing all workers to conform to an office timetable, working autonomously can allow people to structure their day in the way that best suits their body-clock. Morning people (larks) and night owls don’t work productively at the same times of the day. Some work better if they get some morning exercise in first. Others want to work as soon as they get out of bed. The autonomy afforded by remote work allows workers to get into their own best routines and do better work with less mistakes.
The Challenges of Remote Work
Trust: Measuring Output instead of Input
A common managerial complaint about switching to remote is “how will I know if my employees are working?”. Even forgetting the availability of time measurement tools, this is a backwards answer. We tend to measure the value we get out of a worker by how many hours they spend in our building (even if they might take 30 minute bathroom breaks and spend 2 hours gossiping at the coffee machine), when we should be measuring what they produce. Do they meet their targets? Do they exceed them? If so, we’re getting the value from them, and it really shouldn’t matter to the company if it took them 10 or 40 hours to do it.
Shifting this thinking is crucially important to the adoption of remote work.
While tools like email, Skype, Slack, GitHub and Trello can keep us talking to and working with anyone in the world, there really is a lot lost in our messages when we strip out body language, tone of voice, and eye contact. Nothing so far can replace interacting with other humans in person. It’s what we’re built for. Especially when we need to collaborate on creative work, being in the room with people is legitimately far superior.
Text communication can be ambiguous. People can take offence or become anxious just by assuming the wrong tone of voice in a message, or not noticing the intended jovial tone or sarcasm.
Dr. Nick Morgan, a communications consultant/coach, speaking recently on the ‘Face Forward – Inspiring Change’ podcast (ep. 25), advocates for an increased use of emojis in business text communication, to replace some of the missing body language. He also proposes being far more verbal with our reactions in audio-visual communication. For example, going so far as saying “that makes me feel very X” over a group Skype call, rather than staying silent and allowing misconceptions to run amok.
Communication really is the key to success in most endeavours, and it needs some improvement in the area of remote work. I encourage you to listen to that podcast episode if you’re at all interested in this area.
Having worked in games, and occasionally with video editing programs, I know that I really need my desktop PC to do most of that kind of work. Nothing short of the most expensive laptops could be used to run high-end video editing, game engine, or CAD software. Further, it can be painful to shift back down to a small screen when you’re used to working on 2 or 3 big monitors at once. This currently puts a damper on the remote work ambitions of these types of workers, but with the advent of cloud computing, high-end programs can be run “on the cloud” and streamed to any device. Just see the new Google Stadia platform (embedded below) for an idea of what I mean.
Foldable screens and VR can also help with providing us a “bigger” work space without carrying around bulky hardware.
While hardware is currently a constraint, it won’t be for long. Hooray!
A big downside of working from home is the loss of the camaraderie that you get in an office. You don’t see the same people every day and form friendships. If you work completely on your own, loneliness and even depression are likely to set in. Loneliness has been proven to be a huge factor in mental and even physical health issues.
Thankfully this isn’t too hard to remedy. Hybrid workers can still choose to go to their office on certain days. Fully remote workers can join nearby co-working spaces, or work from their local library or coffee shops and get to know the other workers or staff there. The thing to avoid (take my word for it) is working from your bedroom, never seeing people, and never switching off because you wake up in your office. It’s sinister as it seems great at first, but really takes a toll over time.
Organisations like Grow Remote in Ireland are working to promote remote work around the country, but also to create communities and support groups for remote workers around the country to meet in their local areas.
This really is one of the biggest challenges, at least at first. If your remote working day doesn’t include a few fixed points like meetings or calls, and if you don’t have to get kids to school, it can be all too easy to stay in bed a little longer some days, or tidy the house instead of tackling a spreadsheet you don’t want to look at.
This problem isn’t as pronounced if you’re working with a team, but on your own, a lack of a schedule, or a tolerance for letting things throw it off can be a killer to productivity(I’ve upadted this article by adding a link here to another company’s very useful blog on the topic, which goes deeper into the super-powerful world of habit-forming and psychology to maximise productivity at home. Should be very useful while the world is struggling to adapt to Work-From-Home in the midst of COVID-19).
When I started RetroNeo Games in my late 20s, I had no team mates, no customers, no meetings, no kids to take to school, and no idea how to prioritise the 10+ different jobs that a solo indie developer needs to do to run a studio. I’m a very disciplined and regimented person by nature, and I still found this an immense challenge. I did gain control of my schedule, but even then, without accountability, it was a challenge to stay in control. In the end, I found my most productive days were either when the artist or composer (who joined later) were relying on me to complete a task, or it was one of the 2 days a week that I’d scheduled to live stream. I would never miss that appointment to turn on the camera and start coding. Often, there was nobody even watching, but there was a public record of me showing up on time and doing the work. Accountability is huge.
If you have a team and co-workers, or are accountable to your customers, this won’t be as much of a challenge, thankfully. But be aware of it. I’ve coached a few game developers on regimenting their days, getting the most important tasks done first, and reclaiming a work-life balance. If you feel you’d like some help with this area please get in touch for a free discovery call and we’ll try solve at least one problem in half an hour.
Conclusion, and my new ‘Why’
Remote work is the future for many many companies and workers. The enthusiasm, support, and momentum are building and it won’t slow down. Recruiters like Dynamite jobs and Abodoo are popping up and are 100% dedicated to remote jobs.
Two of the reasons that I stopped working in games were A) that I wanted to do something that I felt was more meaningful (like work on behalf of the environment, or to help alleviate Ireland’s homeless situation and housing crisis), and B) I wanted to regularly work with new people and solve interesting problems for them.
Last November, that led me to the idea of business coaching, since I’d helped game developers with the tax and legal ends of their businesses before and loved doing it, but I hadn’t yet chosen a specific area of coaching to focus on.
As I mentioned last week, I think I’ve found a new area of focus for myself. Working to promote and enable Remote Work can help to ease or solve the housing crises in major cities like Dublin, can improve the lives of commuting workers, can reduce vehicle carbon emissions, can make my clients (companies or individual workers) more competitive as they embrace hybrid and remote work, and it allows me to meet new people regularly and see their businesses. It also allows me personally to do most of my work online and be location independent – a goal I’ve had for over a decade (when I worked as a game developer at home, I was ‘remote’, but still dependent on my desktop PC in the home office). So I believe now I’ll position myself more as a remote work consultant, or at least focus more deliberately on marketing that angle.
I’d love to hear your own challenges or desires in the comments, and as I’m trying to grow the blog and business, let me ask directly for you to please consider sharing this article on social media or just with individuals that you think would like it.
Until next time…
PS As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. I’ve linked the book “4-Hour Work Week” above. It costs you no extra to buy through the link, but I get a small percentage as a referral bonus.