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Productivity Hints from Booker T. Washington

Productivity Hints from Booker T. Washington



    When life gets hard, when things don’t go my way, when a project doesn’t quite work out the way I planned, or when I want to sleep but can’t—like right now—I think of thinkers and leaders from the past and I remind myself that things could be much, much worse. 

    Friedrich Hayek had to flee when the London School of Economics was moved to Cambridge during World War II (his friend and intellectual rival John Maynard Keynes apparently helped him find accommodations). 

    Ludwig von Mises was chased out of Europe by the Nazis. 

    The Apostle Paul was beaten, shipwrecked, stoned, imprisoned, and all sorts of horrible things. 

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    Millions of people have lived as slaves.

    One of those people was Booker T. Washington, who would have been 155 this month.

    Washington’s Up From Slavery is one of most inspiring books I’ve ever read ($0 version here).  It tells Washington’s story of going from slavery, poverty, and illiteracy to a position of intellectual and moral leadership in the United States and the world.

    It includes an interesting chapter entitled “The Secret of Success in Public Speaking.”  In it, Washington details the habits that made him a successful educator, public speaker, fundraiser, and leader.  Principles of “effective leadership and action”—which is one of the key clauses in my institution’s Vision statement—are evident throughout.  Here are a few highlights from a very rich chapter in a very rich book:

    1.  Do what you believe in, and believe in what you’re doing. 

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    Here’s Washington: “I believe that one always does himself and his audience an injustice when he speaks merely for the sake of speaking.  I do not believe that one should speak unless, deep down in his heart, he feels convinced that he has a message to deliver.” 

    Have you ever been in an audience where it was clear that the speaker wasn’t passionate about his subject matter?  Bored speakers create bored audiences; if the speaker doesn’t care about what he or she is saying, why should the audience?  Also, your time and energy are very scarce.   Devote them only to tasks that deserve them.

    2.  “The number of people who stand ready to consume one’s time, to no purpose, is almost countless.” 

    In a series of entertaining examples Washington discusses some of his dealings with people who want to consume his time and attention with schemes for saving the world by closing all the national banks, for example, or by adopting a particular process for cultivation of a particular type of corn. 

    I’m sure we all have story upon story about how we have wasted others’ time or had our own time wasted.  That such a thing would occur should not be surprising.  Over time, however, we learn how to install the right filters that increase the signal-to-noise ratio in the information we receive.

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    3.  Success involves inspiration, perspiration, and delegation. 

    Here’s Washington again:  “I am often asked how it is possible for me to superintend the work at Tuskegee and at the same time be so much away from the school.  In partial answer to this I would say that I think I have learned, in some degree at least, to disregard the old maxim which says, ‘Do not get others to do that which you can do yourself.’  My motto, on the other hand, is ‘Do not do that which others can do as well.’” 

    In short, Washington anticipated one of Timothy Ferriss’s most important principles by about 100 years.  Washington writes that, at the time, “the organization is so thorough that the daily work of the school is not dependent upon the presence of any one individual.” 

    In the language of modern-day business books, by surrounding himself with trusted, talented people, and by integrating them into effective workflow processes, Booker T. Washington was able to leverage the talents of those around him and create value for himself, his organization, and his organization’s stakeholders.

    4.  Staying organized and on top of things. 

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    His is a routine that might work for some people but not for others; the fact of the matter, though, is that he did what needed to be done.  Washington also found dignity in his work.  In this respect, it’s worth quoting him at length:

    “As far as I can, I make it a rule to plan for each day’s work—not merely to go through with the same routine of daily duties, but to get rid of the routine work as early in the day as possible, and then to enter upon some new or advance work.  I make it a rule to clear my desk every day, before leaving my office, of all correspondence and memoranda, so that on the morrow I can begin a new day of work.  I make it a rule never to let my work drive me, but to so master it, and keep it in such complete control, and to keep so far ahead of it, that I will be the master instead of the servant.  There is a physical and mental and spiritual enjoyment that comes from a consciousness of being the absolute master of one’s work, in all its details, that is very satisfactory and inspiring.   My experience teaches me that, if one learns to follow this plan, he gets a freshness of body and vigour of mind out of work that goes a long way toward keeping him strong and healthy.  I believe that when one can grow to the point where he loves his work, this gives him a kind of strength that is most valuable.”

    Booker T. Washington’s Up From Slavery is an inspiring tour de force from an American hero.  Among other things, it shows how someone who started with nothing—not even a right to his own person—was able to change the world. He still has much to teach us, and his lessons on productivity remain relevant even today.

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    Published on April 16, 2019

    How Self Care Can Help You Live Your Best Life

    How Self Care Can Help You Live Your Best Life

    When was the last time you did something for yourself?

    Whether it was deciding to treat yourself with a little something or travel for some R&R, how often do you practice self-care?

    Well, as good as above sounds, there’s a common misconception that many of us have about self-care: that it’s only about indulgence and enjoyment.

    However, self-care goes far beyond indulgence. It’s actually about respecting your mind and body, understanding its limits, and being able to take care of every part of yourself, in a holistic way.

    And, you really don’t have to go to extreme measures or do anything specific–like meditating or following a plant based diet–in order to practice self-care. You just have to make sure that what you’re doing is in your best interests.

    So how can you make that happen?

    Below are a few proven methods that will help you become a better version of you. Follow through with these regularly and you’ll be well on your way to living your very best life.

    Listen to Yourself

    The bulk of self-care is knowing yourself.

    This means knowing your body’s limitations, and being in tune with your feelings, emotions and thoughts. So it’s important, then, to know who you are and what you want to do in life, in order to truly say that you know yourself. 

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    What is your purpose?

    Have you ever thought about this question?

    Your purpose doesn’t have to remain the same throughout your life. What you found a purpose in at age 19 would likely be different at age 49.

    In your current situation, think about the different roles that you have – as a working professional, a spouse, a partner, a parent, etc.

    Do you feel like you are fulfilling your purpose through any of these roles?

    All you have to do is ensure that what you’re chasing is meaningful to you; this will bring focus and motivation as you strive to achieve your goals.

    If you have your purpose defined, then that’s awesome! You know what drives you and why.

    But, if you don’t feel like you have a purpose nailed down, it’s good to start by asking why.

    For example, why are you working in your particular job or industry? If the reason is vague or unclear, then your motivational energy will be the same. In which case, you may find yourself not having a direction for where you’re headed in life.

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    If you’d like to learn more about finding your purpose, then I recommend you check out this article:

    How to Get Motivated and Be Happy Every Day When You Wake Up

    Seek Out Continuous Education

    Now, this may seem less common when you think of self-care, but lifelong learning is incredibly useful and an important component of taking care of yourself.

    It’s Super Practical

    Lifelong learning is extremely practical these days and does not require as much effort as it may have in the past. Long gone are the days when you could only find information on something by visiting a library. In this day of the internet, anything you can imagine is at your fingertips.

    You don’t need to physically go to a learning institution to learn. You can watch Youtube videos to learn new skills, take online courses to earn a degree, and scroll through an endless amount of articles, books and journals from reputable news and informative sites.

    When you’re constantly pushing yourself to learn and take up new things, your mental health also improves. Research shows that an active and engaged mind is responsible for diminishing age-related memory loss and improves overall cognitive abilities.

    Your Confidence Will Skyrocket

    You’ll also have improved self worth as it teaches you to step outside of your comfort zone, which will undoubtedly improve your confidence.

    You’ll also connect better with others by expanding your knowledge base. Learning exposes you to a multitude of new ideas and perspectives that you may have otherwise never considered. This also increases your adaptability. Whether it’s at work or just wanting to adapt to society, your peers, and loved ones, life long learning prepares you to take on new challenges.

    You’ll Be More Desired in the Job Market

    Another obvious reason for continuous education, is that your employability will also increase.

    With the ever changing economy, and huge influences from technology, social media, science etc., job descriptions today are moving targets. Assignments and roles change so quickly in response to changing business demands, it becomes a Herculean task to keep a job description database current.

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    In years past, stability was a characteristic of the world of work. Procedures, information, jobs, and organizations were established and provided continuity. Education was completed in the first 14 to 22 years of one’s life, followed by a long career occasionally punctuated by short-term job training.

    Today, however, jobs, companies, and technology are disappearing and being created simultaneously. To remain current and maintain a competitive advantage in the human capital marketplace, an individual is challenged to continually learn.

    People return to school at every age to enrich their skills and knowledge for their current positions. Some even prepare themselves for new jobs or career changes, moving them forward into new opportunities and technology.

    We can be assured that we will be challenged to continue to learn new tasks and information throughout our lives. Successful careers belong to flexible, curious learners who are prepared for opportunities because they know themselves and where they make their best contribution. As Peter Drucker, the father of modern management stated,

    “Knowledge is choice.”

    Lifelong learning also increases social awareness and perspective. To genuinely understand and empathize with others, increase social awareness, and foster strong interpersonal relationships, it’s important to seek out new perspectives. Enhancing the skills that positively impact emotional intelligence can bring even greater happiness and success, both personally and at work; and, this is all part of self-care.

    Improve Your Habits (Both at Work and at Home)

    Now, the last piece of advice I want to introduce to your self-care regimen, is to improve your habits.

    Habits define who you are, and are built up over time. You are what you eat is a great example of this. If you make it a habit to eat foods that nourish your body, rather than make your body feel bad, then you will be much healthier overall.

    Good Habits Allow You to Reach Your Goals

    Since habits dictate your days and nights, such as waking up every morning to get to work before a certain time, or brushing your teeth before bedtime every night, they play a major role in whether we do or do not reach our goals.

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    When you form habits that allow you to progress towards your goals, you’re automatically living a purposeful day, everyday.

    Habits Make Your Time a Priority

    How do you spend your free time? Do you opt to lounge on the couch watching Netflix passively, or do you engage in activities that support your purpose in life?

    It’s natural to waste a lot of time during the day, but fostering good habits will make you set a pattern for how you spend your time and give you the choice of what you choose to spend your time on. By improving your habits, you’ll find that you can be a LOT more productive. When you create good habits, you become more efficient with your time and a lot less is wasted.

    This in essence creates an overall positive influence on your life, allowing you to treat your mind and body well, which is why improving your habits are so important to self-care.

    Your Well Being Comes First

    We live in such a fast-paced society, where we are often so caught up in our work, families, maintaining our social lives, our studies and everything in between. It’s an understatement to say that life can get a little overwhelming at times.

    If you’ve ever watched the safety video onboard a plane, you’ll know that they always ask for a parent or adult to put on the safety mask first, before tending to the child. This may sound selfish, but the fact is that if you truly want to ensure the child’s safety, then your safety needs to come first so that you can protect and care for the child without complications from your end.

    The same goes for self-care. We need to ensure that our well being is priority, so that we can be the best for the people around us.

    Listening to yourself, practicing lifelong learning and improving your habits are steps that you can take to ensure you’re constantly in the best state of mind, alongside the indulgence and rest that you reward yourself with.

    Featured photo credit: Photo by Raychan on Unsplash via unsplash.com

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