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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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          Published on January 16, 2019

          How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

          How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

          We’re all busy, but sometimes we go through periods where the work piles up and it seems like it might never end.

          You might have such a heavy workload that it feels too intimidating to even start.

          You may have said yes to some or too many projects, and now you’re afraid you won’t be able to deliver.

          That’s when you need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and start looking at what’s working and what’s not working.

          Here’re 13 strategies you can use to get out from under your overwhelming workload:

          1. Acknowledge You Can’t Do It All

          Many of us have a tendency to think we can do more than we actually can. We take on more and more projects and responsibility and wear numerous hats.

          We all have the opportunity to have and take on more work than we can reasonably expect to get done. Unfortunately, our workload is not static. Even now, while you are reading this article, I’m guessing that your inbox is filling up with fresh new tasks.

          To make real, effective progress, you have to have both the courage and resourcefulness to say, “This is not working”. Acknowledge that you can’t do it all and look for better solutions.

          At any given time in your life, there are likely many things that aren’t going according to plan. You have to be willing to be honest with yourself and those around you about what’s not working for you, both personally and professionally.

          The more you exercise your ability to tell the truth about what’s working and what’s not working, the faster you’ll make progress.

          2. Focus on Your Unique Strengths

          Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a leader or working as part of a team, every individual has unique strengths they can bring to the table.

          The challenge is that many people end up doing things that they’re simply not very good at.

          In the pursuit of reaching your goals or delivering a project, people end up doing everything themselves or taking on things that don’t play to their unique strengths. This can result in frustration, overwhelm and overwork.

          It can mean projects taking a lot longer to complete because of knowledge gaps, or simply not utilizing the unique strengths of other people you work with.

          It is often not about how to complete this project more effectively but who can help deliver this project.

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          So, what are your unique strengths that will ensure your workload is delivered more effectively? Here’re some questions to help you reflect:

          • Are you a great strategist?
          • Are you an effective planner?
          • Is Project Management your strength?
          • Is communication and bringing people together your strength?
          • Are you the ideas person?
          • Is Implementation your strength?

          Think about how you can bring the biggest value to your work and the projects you undertake.

          3. Use the Strengths of Your Team

          One of the simplest ways to manage your workload effectively is to free up your time so you bring your highest level of energy, focus and strengths to each project.

          Delegation or better teamwork is the solution.

          Everyone has unique strengths. It’s essential to think teamwork rather than working in isolation to ensure projects can be completed effectively. Besides, every time you give away a task or project that doesn’t play to your unique strengths, you open up an opportunity to do something you’re more talented at. This will empower both yourself and those around you.

          Rather than taking on all the responsibilities yourself, look at who you can work with to deliver the best results possible.

          4. Take Time for Planning

          “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”. – Abraham Lincoln

          One hour of effective planning could save hours of time. Rather than just rushing in and getting started on projects, take the time to map everything in.

          You can take the time to think about:

          • What’s the purpose of the project?
          • How Important is it?
          • When does it need to be delivered by?
          • What is the best result and worst result for this project?
          • What are the KPIs?
          • What does the project plan and key milestones look like?
          • Who is working on this project?
          • What is everyone’s responsibilities?
          • What tolerances can I add in?
          • What are the review stages?
          • What are the challenges we may face and the solutions for these challenges?

          Having absolute clarity on the project, the project deliverables and the result you want can save a lot of time. It also gets you clear on the priorities and timelines, so you can block out the required amount of time to focus and concentrate.

          5. Focus on Priorities

          Not everything is a priority, although it can often feel, in the moment, that it is.

          Whatever you’re working on, there is always the Most Urgent, Important or Most Valuable projects or tasks.

          One tool you can use to maximize your productivity and focus on your biggest priorities is to use the Eisenhower Matrix. This strategic tool for taking action on the things that matter most is simple. You separate your actions based on four possibilities:

          1. Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately).
          2. Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later).
          3. Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else).
          4. Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you will eliminate).

          James Clear has a great description on how to use the Eisenhower Matrix: How to be More Productive By Using the Eisenhower Box

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            The method I use with my coaching clients is to ask them to lay out their Top Five priorities for the day. Then to start with the most important priority first. At the end of the day, you review performance against these priorities.

            If you didn’t get everything accomplished, start the next day with your number one priority.

            If you are given additional task/projects during the day, then you will need to gauge their importance V the other priorities.

            6. Take Time Out

            To stay on top of a heavy workload, it’s important to take time out to rest and recuperate.

            If your energy levels are high and your mind and body is refreshed and alert, you are in more of a peak state to handle a heavy workload.

            Take time out of your day to go for a walk or get some exercise in. Leave early when possible and spend time with people who give you a lot of energy.

            In the background, it’s essential to get a good night’s sleep and eat healthily to sharpen the mind.

            Take a look at this article learn about The Importance of Scheduling Downtime.

            7. Maintain a Healthy Work-Life Balance

            Maintaining a healthy work-life balance can be tough. The balance we all crave is very different from one another.

            I’ve written before about 13 Work Life Balance Tips for a Happy and Productive Life. Working longer and harder doesn’t mean achieving more, especially if you have no time to spend with the people that matter most. The quality of who you are as a person, the relationships you have, the time you spend in work, deciding on what matters most is completely within your control.

            Work-life balance is about finding peace within yourself to be fully present, wherever you are, whether that be in the office or at home, right now. It’s about choosing what matters most and creating your own balanced life.

            If you feel there is not enough balance, then it may be time to make a change.

            8. Stop Multitasking

            Multi-tasking is a myth. Your brain simply can’t work effectively by doing more than one thing at a time—at least more than one thing that requires focused attention.

            So get your list of priorities (see earlier point), do the most important thing first, then move to the next item and work down your list.

            When you split your focus over a multitude of different areas, you can’t consistently deliver a high performance. You won’t be fully present on the one task or project at hand.

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            If you allocate blocked time and create firm boundaries for specific activities and commitments, you won’t feel so overwhelmed or overworked with everything you have to do.

            9. Work in Blocks of Time

            To keep your energy up to produce your best results it’s essential to take regular breaks.

            I use the 60-60-30 method myself and teach it to my coaching clients.

            Work on a project for a sustained period of 50 minutes.

            Then take a 10-minute break. This could be taking a walk, having a healthy snack or just having a conversation with someone.

            Then continue to work on the project for a further 50 minutes.

            Then take another 10-minute break.

            Then take a complete 30-minute break to unplug from the work. This could be time for a proper lunch, a quick bit of exercise, reading or having a walk.

            By simply taking some time out, your energy levels stay up, the quality of your work improves and you reduce the risk of becoming burned out.

            10. Get Rid of Distractions

            Make an estimation on how many times you are distracted during an average working day. Now take that number and multiply it by 25. According to Gloria Mark in her study on The Cost of Interrupted Work, it takes us an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to return to the original task after interruption.[1]

            “Our research has shown that attention distraction can lead to higher stress, a bad mood and lower productivity.”

            Distractions don’t just take up your time during the distraction, they can derail your mental progress and focus for almost 25 minutes. So, if you are distracted 5 times per day, you could be losing almost 2 hours every day of productive work and almost 10 hours every week.

            If you have an important project to work on, find a space where you won’t be distracted, or try doing this.

            11. Commit Focused Time to Smaller Tasks

            You know sometimes, you need to simply tackle these tasks and take action on them. But there’s always something more pressing.

            Small tasks can often get in the way of your most important projects. They sit there on your daily To Do list but are often forgotten about because of more important priorities or because they hold no interest for you. But they take up mental energy. They clutter your mind.

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            Commit to spending a specific period of time completing all the small tasks you have on your To Do list. It will give you peace of mind and the space to focus more on your bigger priorities.

            12. Take a Time Audit

            Do you know exactly where your time is going each day? Are you spending too long on certain projects and tasks to the detriment of bigger opportunities?

            Spend a bit of time to analyze where you are spending your time. This insight will amaze you and give you the clarity to start adjusting where you focus your time and on what projects.

            You can start by taking a piece of paper and creating three columns:

            Column A is Priority Work. Column B is Good Work. Column C is low value work or stuff.

            Each day, write down the project or task and the time spent on each. Allocate that time to one of the columns.

            At the end of the week, record the total time spent in each column.

            If you are spending far too much time on certain types of work, look to change things so your focused time is in Column B and C.

            13. Protect Your Confidence

            It is essential to protect our confidence to ensure we don’t get overwhelmed, stressed and lose belief.

            When you have confidence as a daily resource, you are in a better position to problem solve, learn quicker, respond to anything, adjust to anything, and achieve your biggest opportunities.

            Confidence gives you the ability to transform fear into focused and relaxed thinking, communication, and action. This is key to put your mind into a productive state.

            When confidence is high, you can clearly see the possibilities at hand and create strategies to take advantage of them, or to solve the challenges you face each day.

            Final Words

            A heavy workload can be tough to deal with and can cause stress, burnout and ongoing frustration.

            The key is to tackle it head on, rather than let it go on and compound the long-term effects. Hopefully, you can take action on at least one of these tips.

            If it gets too much, and negatively affects your physical and mental health, it may be time to talk to someone. Instead of dealing with it alone and staying unhappier, resentful and getting to a point where you simply can’t cope, you have to make a change for your own sanity.

            Featured photo credit: Hannah Wei via unsplash.com

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