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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 March 21, 2019

          11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

          11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

          Most gurus talk about habits in a way that doesn’t help you:

          You need to push yourself more. You can’t be lazy. You need to wake up at 5 am. You need more motivation. You can never fail…blah blah “insert more gibberish here.”

          But let me share with you the unconventional truths I found out:

          To build and change habits, you don’t need motivation or wake up at 5 am. Heck, you can fail multiple times, be lazy, have no motivation and still pull it off with ease.

          It’s quite simple and easy to do, especially with the following list I’m going to show to you. But remember, Jim Rohn used to say,

          “What is simple and easy to do is also simple and easy not to do.”

          The important things to remember when changing your habits are both simple and easy, just don’t think that they don’t make any difference because they do.

          In fact, they are the only things that make a difference.

          Let’s see what those small things are, shall we?

          1. Start Small

          The biggest mistake I see people doing with habits is by going big. You don’t go big…ever. You start small with your habits.

          Want to grow a book reading habit? Don’t start reading a book a day. Start with 10 pages a day.

          Want to become a writer? Don’t start writing 10,000 words a day. Start with 300 words.

          Want to lose weight? Don’t stop eating ice cream. Eat one less ball of it.

          Whatever it is, you need to start small. Starting big always leads to failure. It has to, because it’s not sustainable.

          Start small. How small? The amount needs to be in your comfort zone. So if you think that reading 20 pages of a book is a bit too much, start with 10 or 5.

          It needs to appear easy and be easy to do.

          Do less today to do more in a year.

          2. Stay Small

          There is a notion of Kaizen which means continuous improvement. They use this notion in habits where they tell you to start with reading 1 page of a book a day and then gradually increase the amount you do over time.

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          But the problem with this approach is the end line — where the “improvement” stops.

          If I go from reading 1 page of a book a day and gradually reach 75 and 100, when do I stop? When I reach 1 book a day? That is just absurd.

          When you start a habit, stay at it in the intensity you have decided. Don’t push yourself for more.

          I started reading 20 pages of a book a day. It’s been more than 2 years now and I’ve read 101 books in that period. There is no way I will increase the number in the future.

          Why?

          Because reading 40 to 50 books a year is enough.

          The same thing applies to every other habit out there.

          Pick a (small) number and stay at it.

          3. Bad Days Are 100 Percent Occurrence

          No matter how great you are, you will have bad days where you won’t do your habit. Period.

          There is no way of going around this. So it’s better to prepare yourself for when that happens instead of thinking that it won’t ever happen.

          What I do when I miss a day of my habit(s) is that I try to bounce back the next day while trying to do habits for both of those days.

          Example for that is if I read 20 pages of a book a day and I miss a day, the next day I will have to read 40 pages of a book. If I miss writing 500 words, the next day I need to write 1000.

          This is a really important point we will discuss later on rewards and punishments.

          This is how I prepare for the bad days when I skip my habit(s) and it’s a model you should take as well.

          4. Those Who Track It, Hack It

          When you track an activity, you can objectively tell what you did in the past days, weeks, months, and years. If you don’t track, you will for sure forget everything you did.

          There are many different ways you can track your activities today, from Habitica to a simple Excel sheet that I use, to even a Whatsapp Tracker.

          Peter Drucker said,

          “What you track is what you do.”

          So track it to do it — it really helps.

          But tracking is accompanied by one more easy activity — measuring.

          5. Measure Once, Do Twice

          Peter Drucker also said,

          “What you measure is what you improve.”

          So alongside my tracker, I have numbers with which I measure doses of daily activities:

          For reading, it’s 20 pages.
          For writing, it’s 500 words.
          For the gym, it’s 1 (I went) or 0 (didn’t go).
          For budgeting, it’s writing down the incomes and expenses.

          Tracking and measuring go hand in hand, they take less than 20 seconds a day but they create so much momentum that it’s unbelievable.

          6. All Days Make a Difference

          Will one day in the gym make you fit? It won’t.

          Will two? They won’t.

          Will three? They won’t.

          Which means that a single gym session won’t make you fit. But after 100 gym sessions, you will look and feel fit.

          What happened? Which one made you fit?

          The answer to this (Sorites paradox)[1] is that no single gym session made you fit, they all did.

          No single day makes a difference, but when combined, they all do. So trust the process and keep on going (small).

          7. They Are Never Fully Automated

          Gurus tell you that habits become automatic. And yes, some of them do, like showering a certain way of brushing your teeth.

          But some habits don’t become automatic, they become a lifestyle.

          What I mean by that is that you won’t automatically “wake up” in the gym and wonder how you got there.

          It will just become a part of your lifestyle.

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          The difference is that you do the first one automatically, without conscious thought, while the other is a part of how you live your life.

          It’s not automatic, but it’s a decision you don’t ponder on or think about — you simply do it.

          It will become easy at a certain point, but they will never become fully automated.

          8. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

          Marshall Goldsmith has a great book with the same title to it. The phrase means that sometimes, you will need to ditch certain habits to make room for other ones which will bring you to the next step.

          Don’t be afraid to evolve your habits when you sense that they don’t bring you where you want to go.

          When I started reading, it was about reading business and tactic books. But two years into it, I switched to philosophy books which don’t teach me anything “applicable,” but instead teach me how to think.

          The most important ability of the 21st century is the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn. The strongest tree is the willow tree – not because it has the strongest root or biggest trunk, but because it is flexible enough to endure and sustain anything.

          Be like a willow, adapting to the new ways of doing things.

          9. Set a Goal and Then Forget It

          The most successful of us know what they want to achieve, but they don’t focus on it.

          Sounds paradoxical? You’re right, it does. But here is the logic behind it.

          You need to have a goal of doing something – “I want to become a healthy individual” – and then, you need to reverse engineer how to get there with your habits- “I will go to the gym four times a week.”

          But once you have your goal, you need to “forget” about it and only focus on the process. Because you are working on the process of becoming healthy and it’s always in the making. You will only be as healthy as you take care of your body.

          So you have a goal which isn’t static but keeps on moving.

          If you went to the gym 150 times year and you hit your goal, what would you do then? You would stop going to the gym.

          This is why goal-oriented people experience yo-yo effect[2] and why process-oriented people don’t.

          The difference between process-oriented and goal-oriented people is that the first focus on daily actions while others only focus on the reward at the finish line.

          Set a goal but then forget about it and reap massive awards.

          10. Punish Yourself

          Last two sections are pure Pavlovian – you need to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior. You are the only person who decides what is good and what is bad for you, but when you do, you need to rigorously follow that.

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          I’ve told you in point #3 about bad days and how after one occurs, I do double the work on the next day. That is one of my forms of punishments.

          It’s the need to tell your brain that certain behaviors are unacceptable and that they lead to bad outcomes. That’s what punishments are for.

          You want to tell your brain that there are real consequences to missing your daily habits.[3]

          No favorite food to eat or favorite show to watch or going to the cinema for a new Marvel movie- none, zero, zilch.

          The brain will remember these bad feelings and will try to avoid the behaviors that led to them as much as possible.

          But don’t forget the other side of the same coin.

          11. Reward Yourself

          When you follow and execute on your plan, reward yourself. It’s how the brain knows that you did something good.

          Whenever I finish one of my habits for the day, I open my tracker (who am I kidding, I always keep it open on my desktop) and fill it with a number. As soon as I finish reading 20 pages of a book a day (or a bit more), I open the tracker and write the number down.

          The cell becomes green and gives me an instant boost of endorphin – a great success for the day. Then, it becomes all about not breaking the chain and having as many green fields as possible.

          After 100 days, I crunch some numbers and see how I did.

          If I have less than 10 cheat days, I reward myself with a great meal in a restaurant. You can create your own rewards and they can be daily, weekly, monthly or any arbitrary time table that you create.

          Primoz Bozic, a productivity coach, has gold, silver, and bronze medals as his reward system.[4]

          If you’re having problems creating a system which works for you, contact me via email and we can discuss specifics.

          In the End, It Matters

          What you do matters not only to you but to the people around you.

          When you increase the quality of your life, you indirectly increase the quality of life of people around you. And sometimes, that is all the “motivation” we need to start.

          And that’s the best quote for the end of this article:

          “Motivation gets you started, but habits keep you going.”

          Keep going.

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          More Resources to Help You Build Habits

          Featured photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via unsplash.com

          Reference

          [1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Sorites paradox
          [2] Muscle Zone: What causes yo-yo effect and how to avoid it?
          [3] Growth Habits: 5 Missteps That Cause You To Quit Building A Habit
          [4] Primoz Bozic: The Lean Review: How to Plan Your 2019 in 20 Minutes

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