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The Top 10 Things I Learned about Productivity Living in Total Isolation for 10 Days

The Top 10 Things I Learned about Productivity Living in Total Isolation for 10 Days

I almost quit this productivity experiment on day five.

I hated this experiment. Hated hated hated hated hated this experiment. Every morning I woke up with no energy, no motivation, and feeling like the life had been completely sucked out of me. I had no social support network to fall back on, felt completely isolated nearly all of the time, woke up sick most mornings because the basement was so goddamned cold, and experienced deep, emotional trenches that left me tired, exhausted, and depressed.

And at the same time, I loved this experiment. I loved living on an island, a cocooned paradise where no one could contact me or reach me. I felt unburdened by the commitments that come with people. All of my time was mine – I wasn’t being tugged in a million directions – I could move freely, productive or otherwise, in whatever hell direction I wanted.

You could say that this experiment had its ups and downs.

The purpose of living in reclusion was to dive deep into how social interactions impact productivity, and I certainly did that. At 5pm today I’m stepping out of my cocoon and back into the real world, but not before writing about the things I’ve learned down here. Here are the top 10 things I learned about productivity while living in reclusion for 10 days.

10. Wait a bit before sending important emails/messages

I think almost everyone has Tweets, emails, text messages, pictures, and other online stuff they’d like to take back, and can’t.

On my computer’s desktop I have a big-ass text file with a ton of emails, tweets, and blog comments that I wasn’t allowed to send during the course of this experiment. Here’s the interesting part: as the file has been sitting there for the last 10 days, I have significantly revised the more important messages in the batch, and sometimes completely changed some after I would have already hit ‘Send.’ Most of my edits took place in the 24 hours after I wrote the original message.

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When you give your mind time to collect and form thoughts, what you say is more complete, valuable, creative, and generally better. Before hitting ‘Send’ on your next important email, try waiting several hours, or even a day if you can. The world certainly won’t fall apart, and you’ll be able to get your point across much stronger.

9. Don’t eat several mandarin oranges when you’re going to live in the same small room for 10 days

The room I lived in for the last 10 days is tiny, and mandarin oranges give me a lot of gas. Needless to say, this is a lesson you should take to heart if you ever find yourself spending time in reclusion.

8. It’s easier to ‘let yourself go’ when there aren’t people around

Toward the end of the experiment, especially as I began to write more and make less videos about the experiment, I began to care a lot less about my appearance. I dressed sloppier, ate poorer, and didn’t care a hell of a lot about impressing people (and not in a badass kind of way, either).

I’ll personally admit that one of the reasons I want to become fitter, more focused, smarter, and so on is vanity. It isn’t the only reason, but it’s one of them. I want people to look at me and think, “Holy s**t, is that man ever [blank]!” Without people around to impress, I found myself letting go of my appearance.

I’m not sure if this lesson can be generalized, but I’m going to do it anyway. When you’re surrounded by more people, especially if receiving validation motivates you, you will try harder to make yourself into a better person.

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    7. Meditation is the key to staying sane

    Over the last 10 days, I’ve meditated for 47 minutes a day, on average, and this has undoubtedly kept me sane in reclusion. At the beginning of my experiment, I found my mind racing and restless, but after each meditation, my mind revved down considerably. Meditation may just be the key to keeping your mind calm and in check.

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    As the old Buddhist saying goes, “You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day – unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.”

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      6. Digital connections provide a much smaller return than real connections

      Over the last 10 days, as I separated myself from my real and digital connections (people I haven’t met), I came to the realization that my real connections are profoundly different than digital connections. Real connections are deeper, more valuable, and provide greater returns as you invest more time and energy into them.

      The problem is, and maybe you’re like me with this, I invest way more time into my digital connections than my real connections. That’s not to say that there isn’t a human being on the other end of every Twitter account (except for Horse ebooks, of course), but that is to say real relationships will provide you with much larger returnsThe trick is to spend your time in a way that matches up with that fact.

      5. The most boring, cliché things are the things that actually work

      I think that behind every cliché is a truth that’s so powerful that people feel compelled to repeat the phrase over and over and over. Work out. Get a good amount of sleep. Eat well. Take a vitamin every day. Drink a lot of water. The problem is that they’re repeated so often that they lose almost all of their meaning.

      By day three, I was sick, stuffed up, had trouble breathing, and generally felt terrible. But then I started drinking a ton of water, taking vitamins, eating impeccably, and began to focus more on getting a good amount of sleep each night instead of trying to wake up at 5:30 every morning (for another productivity experiment). As soon as I started doing these boring, cliché things, my health, attitude, motivation, and energy levels all instantly perked up. These things work.

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      I-made-a-list-of-what-to-get-on-my-two-trips-up-a-day

        Every day I was allowed two, 10-minute trips upstairs, and throughout each day I made a list of what to get.

        4. Without people around, you have high highs, but lower lows

        Two news articles were published about my project while I was in reclusion, and to be honest, this made me feel just as good down here alone as I would have felt surrounded by friends.

        But when I hit the ‘lows’ of this experiment – taking three hours to fall asleep, battling a huge cold, getting fatigued because of a lack of sleep, and becoming sadder than I had been in months – I had no social support network down here as a safety net.

        I think a lot of people think they don’t need people when they’re on top of the world, only to find they’re alone when they inevitably come back down again.

        As a rule, I think people embellish pretty much everything.

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          3. Sunlight elevates your mood, regulates your sleep, and gives you energy and motivation

          This was a lesson so big that I wrote a whole other article about itWhen you don’t have enough exposure to sunlight (like me throughout the experiment), your sleep quality severely suffers (since the sun regulates your sleep cycle), you’re less able to handle stress and manage your attention, and you have significantly less energy.

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          2. Stepping back from what you do gives you a valuable, bigger perspective

          We spend most of our time at ‘ground level‘, entrenched in whatever we’re doing. It isn’t until we step back from what we’re doing that we can see it from a broader perspective. Living in reclusion, I focused mostly on work, and I found it incredibly difficult to step back from this project. But at the same time, I was about to gain an incredible perspective on where things like my relationships, finances, and health fit into who I am, mostly because I was able to step back from those elements of my life. Stepping back from the elements that comprise your life gives them meaning, gives you purpose, and allows you to see how what you do fits into the bigger picture of who you are.

          1. People matter (more than you think)

          At the end of the day (well, 10 days), I was less productive in reclusion than I would have been normally. Everyone has a different definition of productivity, but most of the benchmarks I use to measure how productive I am involve people, such as how happy I make other people, and the difference I’m able to make. When you take people out of that equation, either a) you’re not able to accomplish much, or b) what you do accomplish doesn’t mean a hell of a lot.

          For me, people are my tapestry; so interwoven with who I am and what I do that I take them for granted. But over the last 10 days, like electricity, I’ve missed all of the people in my life when they were gone.

          Throughout this experiment I have been less motivated, energetic, enthusiastic, and happy than I have been for a long time. Sure, some of that is because I’m not getting any sunlight, but I think it’s mostly because I have had no social interactions for the last 10 days.

          People matter, perhaps a lot more than you think. This isn’t an experiment I’ll repeat, but that said, I sure as hell learned a lot.

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          Last Updated on September 17, 2018

          How to Stop Multitasking and Become Way More Productive

          How to Stop Multitasking and Become Way More Productive

          Today we are expected to work in highly disruptive environments. We sit down at our desks, turn on our computer and immediately we are hit with hundreds of emails all vying for our attention.

          Our phones are beeping and pinging with new alerts to messages, likes and comments and our colleagues are complaining about the latest company initiative is designed to get us to do more work and spend less time at home.

          All these distractions result in us multitasking where our attention is switching between one crisis and the next.

          Multitasking is a problem. But how to stop multitasking?

          How bad really is multitasking?

          It dilutes your focus and attention so even the easiest of tasks become much harder and take longer to complete.

          Studies have shown that while you think you are multitasking, you are in fact task switching, which means your attention is switching between two or more pieces of work and that depletes the energy resources you have to do your work.

          This is why, even though you may have done little to no physical activity, you arrive home at the end of the day feeling exhausted and not in the mood to do anything.

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          We know it is not a good way to get quality work done, but the demands for out attention persist and rather than reduce, are likely to increase as the years go by.

          So what to do about it?

          Ways to stop multitasking and increase productivity

          Now, forget about how to multitask!

          Here are a few strategies on how to stop multitasking so you can get better quality and more work done in the time you have each working day:

          1. Get enough rest

          When you are tired, your brain has less strength to resist even the tiniest attention seeker. This is why when you find your mind wandering, it is a sign your brain is tired and time to take a break.

          This does not just mean taking breaks throughout the day, it also means making sure you get enough sleep every day.

          When you are well rested and take short regular breaks throughout the day your brain is fully refuelled and ready to focus in on the work that is important.

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          2. Plan your day

          When you don’t have a plan for the day, the day will create a plan for you. When you allow outside influences to take control of your day, it is very hard not to be dragged off in all directions.

          When you have a plan for the day, when you arrive at work your brain knows exactly what it is you want to accomplish and will subconsciously have prepared itself for a sustained period of focused work.

          Your resistance to distractions and other work will be high and you will focus much better on the work that needs doing.

          3. Remove everything from your desk and screen except for the work you are doing

          I learned this one a long time ago. In my previous work, I worked in a law office and I had case files to deal with. If I had more than one case file on my desk at any one time, I would find my eyes wandering over the other case files on my desk when I had something difficult to do.

          I was looking for something easier. This meant often I was working on three or four cases at one time and that always led to mistakes and slower completion.

          Now when I am working on something, I am in full-screen mode where all I can see is the work I am working on right now.

          4. When at your desk, do work

          We are creatures of habit. If we do our online shopping and news reading at our desks as well as our work, we will always have the temptation to be doing stuff that we should not be doing at that moment.

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          Do your online shopping from another place—your home or from your phone when you are having a break—and only do your work when at your desk. This conditions your brain to focus in on your work and not other distractions.

          5. Learn to say no

          Whenever you hear the phrase “learn to say no,” it does not mean going about being rude to everyone. What it does mean is delay saying yes.

          Most problems occur when we say “yes” immediately. We then have to spend an inordinate amount of energy thinking of ways to get ourselves out of the commitment we made.

          By saying “let me think about it” or “can I let you know later” gives you time to evaluate the offer and allows you to get back to what you were doing quicker.

          6. Turn off notifications on your computer

          For most of us, we still use computers to do our work. When you have email alert pop-ups and other notifications turned on, they will distract you no matter how strong you feel.

          Turn them off and schedule email reviewing for times between doing your focused work. Doing this will give you a lot of time back because you will be able to remain focused on the work in front of you.

          7. Find a quiet place to do your most important work

          Most workplaces have meeting rooms that are vacant. If you do have important work to get done, ask if you can use one of those rooms and do your work there.

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          You can close the door, put on your headphones and just focus on what is important. This is a great way to remove all the other, non-important, tasks demanding your attention and just focus on one piece of work.

          The bottom line

          Focusing on one piece of work at a time can be hard but the benefits to the amount of work you get done are worth it. You will make fewer mistakes, you will get more done and will feel a lot less tired at the end of the day.

          Make a list of the four or five things you want to get done the next day before you finish your work for the day and when you start the day, begin at the top of the list with the first item.

          Don’t start anything else until you have finished the first one and then move on to the second one. This one trick will help you to become way more productive.

          Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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