Doing what you love, productivity, procrastination and social media

When you follow your dreams and work with what you love and feel really will do an impact, then you’re never hit by procrastination – right? I can’t recall how many times I have been met with that assumption. Hey it must be so awesome to work with what you love, then it probably never feels like work. You won’t ever do something that you don’t like doing or do boring tasks. Ehm – where to start…

I actually on a number of occasions, felt rather ashamed of the fact that; here I was working with what I love, going after a dream and still I found myself getting distracted by all sorts of unimportant rubbish – thereby failing to put in sufficient work on what really matters.

The most basic form of human stupidity is forgetting what we are trying to accomplish.

Procrastination. Oh yes – even though you work with what you love, the long term goal is totally in line with what you are working on, you can still be hit by procrastination. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. You just need to take steps in the right direction to try and minimize it. I don’t think you can totally avoid it, since it is so deeply rooted in human nature. But if you become aware of signs as to when you’re really procrastinating instead of getting stuff done, then you can take action to move yourself in the right direction.

There are probably very few endeavors or long term goals which you can accomplish without a lot of time spent on things you really would have preferred to be without. Especially when you are starting from scratch. There will be times when the task ahead of you will have you checking e-mail compulsively, getting coffee 4 times in an hour, updating your twitter, facebook and instagram feed all just to look for some distraction that can pull you away from the task at hand. But this is where you can separate yourself from the crowd.

Lots and lots of people are creative when they feel like it, but you are only going to become a professional if you do it when you don’t feel like it.

I recently had a rather bad streak of not really getting anything important accomplished. Just running around trying to look busy. The only thing I could really get my mind to concentrate on was reading. Having realized this, which is kind of the first step, I went to the bookshelf and pulled out a book that before has helped me regain my productivity: Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind (The 99U Book Series)

This is a little short book, filled with tips and productivity hacks by 99U. If you have followed them on their website or youtube you will recognize a lot of the people and advice given in the book. It is basically just a lot of short chapters on productivity by some of the most knowing people on the topic. I dare you to read this book without going away with something really useful. Given the short chapters it is a very good go-to book if you just need a short reminder to keep your shit together or you can sit down and read the entire book in a day, without having to be an avid speed-reader.

I have made a lot of notes and will implement them the coming weeks to get me back on track productivity wise. Short term it sure has helped. My guess is that I have got more accomplished in the last two days, that the entire last week…

But I would like to end by sharing a few notes from the book on social media. It is a chapter focusing on all the distractions fighting for our attention. All the social media platforms that makes us feel good short term, but do not bring us any closer to our long term goals. The overall advice is that we set certain times for accessing social media and ask ourselves key questions once we feel drawn towards them outside these slots:

  • Is it necessary to share this? Will it add value to my life and for other people?
  • Can I share this experience later so I can focus on living right now?
  • Am I looking for validation? Is there something I could do to validate myself?
  • Am I avoiding something I need to do instead of adressing why I don’t want to do it?
  • Am I feeling bored? Is there something else I could do to feel more purposeful and engaged in my day?
  • Am I feeling lonely? Have I created opportunities for meaningful connection in my day?
  • Am I afraid of missing out? Is the gratification of giving in to that fear worth missing out on what’s in front of me?
  • Am I overwhelming myself, trying to catch up? Can I let go of yesterdays conversation and join today’s instead?
  • Can I use this time to simply be instead of looking for something to do to fill it?
  • Do I just want to have mindless fun for a while?

All are valid question, and all can be answered with a valid yes – but the mere awareness might keep you grinding at what you’re trying to avoid, instead of giving in to a quick fix.

As said earlier, this book is filled with good little productivity hacks, focusing on anything from energy to your surroundings. It is a very good book both for reading in entirety as well as browsing a few chapters every once in a while.

Books on psychology, our irrational mind, thinking and decisions

DSC_0008There are several books on the topic of decision-making, a lot more than I will ever read, but here are a couple of recommendations if the topic is of interest to you.

If you aren’t interested – maybe you should be. “Surprisingly” we are not as rational as we might think. Our feelings, perceptions and mood along with other factors plays a far greater role than we would like them to. In a “perfect” world we would not have two opposing stands on the same topic just because of different wording. Or be “tricked” into making a different choice just because of a simple marketing trick.

Check this example from Predictably Irrational.

The Economist runs a campaign with the following options:

  1. Internet-only subscription $59
  2. Print-only subscription $125
  3. Print-and-Internet subscription $125

Dan Ariely(the author) runs an experiment on 100 students at MIT and this is what they opted for:

  1. Internet-only subscription $59 – 16 students
  2. Print-only subscription $125 – 0 students
  3. Print-and-Internet subscription $125 – 84 students

You would most likely also have chosen the 3. option and with good reason. That seems the best deal. But were you somehow influenced by the mere presence of the Print-only option, which of course no one with a sane mind would choose? If that option did not influence the selection, the removal of it would of course yield somewhat the same spread of selections. He then ran the same experiment, but without the Print-only option and this is how people opted:

  1. Internet-only $59 – 68 students
  2. Print-and-Internet $125 – 32 students

If people chose rationally this would of course not be the case, but as the example clearly shows a presence of an option that no one would consider, totally alters the decisions and trust me marketers knows this!

But why do we do this? The “decoy” acts as something to compare option 3 with. We are not sure whether we want internet or print, but with the Print-only option we have a comparison that makes Print-and-Internet a good deal.

This can be deployed by real estate agents trying to sell you a house showing you 3 houses; first one a bit out of town, second one in the city and third another one in the city but who needs some repair done and is in poorer condition than the other house – this would as our example shows, make you more likely to opt in for the good condition city-house. And the applications are numerous; vacations, cars, computers etc.

So if you want to be a bit more aware of how your decisions are shaped and make more rational decisions, you should definitely give one of these books a read. But which one?

How We Decideis by far the one of them who made the least impression on me. Not that it is a bad book, there are some good examples in it, but not just as many “aha” moments or “I could have done that” as in the others. It just did not engage me quite as much as the others. I read it first and found it interesting but with the other options available I would go for one of those.

Predictably Irrational(PI) is by far the most entertaining and engaging. It is so easy to relate to most examples and it is very well written. It is a hard-to-put-down type of book. It is not as thorough as Thinking fast and slow. But if you are not really sure how entertaining it is to read about psychology and your own mind, I would highly recommend to start with Predictably Irrational.

Thinking, Fast and Slowis, as mentioned above, the most thorough. It is not as easy readable as PI in the way that it makes you think so much harder and sometimes presents rather complex theories and ideas. It digs a lot deeper than PI, and has way more material. PI even quotes some of Daniel Kahneman’s discoveries. My recommendation would be to start with PI and if you are hungry for the hardcore stuff go buy Thinking fast and slow. You could read it as your first psychology book on decisions, but then you should be very very curious otherwise it might seem a little to theoretical. PI is an engaging read for almost everyone – Thinking fast and slow is an engaging read if you find the topic engaging I would say.

I am always open to new book recommendations, so please let me know if you have any or if you have comments about the books mentioned.

Happy reading!

The Aaron Swartz documentary

“Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves. The world’s entire scientific and cultural heritage, published over centuries in books and journals, is increasingly being digitized and locked up by a handful of private corporations. Want to read the papers featuring the most famous results of the sciences? You’ll need to send enormous amounts to publishers like Reed Elsevier.”

“Jack Andraka’s breakthrough pancreatic cancer test would have never come about were it not for access to online journals — what Internet guru Aaron Swartz was promoting before his death.”

http://www.vancouverobserver.com/world/how-aaron-swartz-paved-way-jack-andrakas-revolutionary-cancer-test

Law of small numbers in statistics

I’m in the midst of reading “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman. An extremely interesting book, if you have any interest in how you and others form their decisions. I will not discuss the entire book here, as obviously I haven’t finished it yet, but I would like to write a thing or two about a recent chapter I read, since it really resonated with me as something I, first of all; should have known – but certainly should remember moving forward. And one of the best ways of remembering, for me, seems to be trying to explain it to others.

As the title suggests, this has to do with something called the “law of small numbers”. Most people seem to acknowledge that statistics based on large samples produce more accurate results, but fail to recognise that statistics based on smaller samples not only are more inaccurate, but also produce more extreme outcomes.

Why is this important? I thought I was fully aware of the pitfalls, at least the inaccuracy part  – but having read this chapter I realized I wasn’t.

My reasoning, and probably a lot of other people’s, recognise that if you take a small sample of a larger whole, then the small sample of course won’t be as accurate – but it will show a tendency. This CAN be absolutely false. Danish media even slipped big time, failing to recognise this, during a recent election, when their early exit poll claimed the wrong victor.

But why is this? How can statistics on small numbers show the complete opposite as statistics performed on the full sample? It has to do with the fact that small samples produce more extreme outcomes. I will use Daniel Kahneman’s example as it made it really clear for me to understand.

From the same urn, two very patient marble counters take turns. Jack draws 4 marbles on each trial, Jill draws 7. They both record each time they observe a homogeneous sample – all white or all red. If they go on long enough, Jack will observe such extreme outcomes more often than Jill – by a factor of 8 (the expected percentages are 12.5% and 1.56%) Again no hammer, no causation, but a mathematical fact: samples of 4 marbles yield extreme results more often than samples of 7 marbles do.

This really made it “click” for me. Of course they do. Small samples are not only more inaccurate but – and this is the very important part – they yield more extreme outcomes.

But as the book so beautifully describes, almost everyone can miss this fact. The Gates foundation made a huge $1.7 billion investment, based on findings that had tried to pinpoint which schools produced the best grades. One of the findings was that the small schools seemed to outperform the larger by a factor of 4. This lead to splitting of larger schools into smaller units. The only problem was that the size of the school had nothing to do with the grades. If they had asked which schools produced the lowest grades – once again it would have been the small schools. But the size of the school had nothing to do with the grades. The larger schools produced more “average” results, simply by the fact that they had more students – thereby larger sample sizes. Small schools on the other hand had fewer students – thereby smaller sample, which as we have learned can produce more extreme outcomes.

Correlation does not equal causation.

This knowledge has given me a whole new perspective on statistics. I am amazed at how often media, marketing or even politicians use statistics based on very small samples as “proof” for their claims. And for the most part they totally get away with it. But moving forward I hope to be more observant and aware of this fallacy, to keep me from making bad decisions, on what I, in the past, might have considered good valid information.

Minimum effective dose in training

If you are a professional athlete that lives of your training, this article is not for you. If you on the other hand have a lot of things going in your life but still prioritize your training, then this sure is for you.

Minimum effective dose is an expression primarily used in medicine. It’s kind of self-explanatory, but as I am gonna use it in regards to training, a few notes on what it actually means might be helpful.

To explain what it is, we might look at what it is not. Minimum effective dose does not imply; if X is minimum effective dose, then 2 times X must be 2 times more effective or more effective at all, for that matter. It refers to the minimum required dose, that produces the wanted result.

Now why is this relevant? The popular way of training now-a-days seems to carry the message: “You can always do more”, “Push harder”. Motivational posters are flooding social media with messages that imply something in the line of: “If you’re not killing yourself in the gym, then you are not working hard enough.”

This message is absolutely fine for those athletes that have training as their main goal or train as a means to reach a certain goal. They should by all means try to outwork their competition. But if your main priorities lays outside the gym, then start thinking of minimum effective dose.

I have been guilty of this. First I had a very hard time switching from training splits 6 days a week to 2-3 times a week of fullbody. I realized that my priorities had switched, they no longer resided inside the gym. I still loved to train, but I was not going to let my training keep me from having fun with my, at the time, girlfriend, friends, my motorcycle, wakeboarding etc. etc. They all had to co-exist, which meant cutting back on training. I think I was around 21 at this point and had been training for 7 years.

What I of course found out, was that this shift in frequency not only allowed me more time to do the things that I loved but it did not affect my body composition all that much after all. A well planned fullbody program can be just as effective, at least for non-competition athletes.

Fast forward to today. I have been training fullbody for now 7-8 years. I have started my own company which by all means are my top priority. But what I found was that, as I am very much guilty of the “kill it in the gym”-mentality, my fullbody routines has grown, and grown, and grown cramming as many exhausting heavy basic exercises in there as I could. Sure this do produce results – but they started leaving traces on my energy-levels the day after, thereby negatively affecting my ability to give 100% towards my main priority; my company. This was unacceptable.

The whole point of my fullbody routines was that; 2-3 times a week I go to the gym, hit it hard and go home. Doing some HIIT after the routine if needed – but the whole point was that I didn’t need to go run some alternating days etc. I of course could if I wanted, but the basic methodology was that I did not NEED to.

So when my routine had come to the point where it drained my energy the day after, it had come to far. I started cutting back on exercises only leaving the ones that gave the most “bang-for-the buck”, then cutting back on sets – generally just approaching my entire routine with “what is minimum effective dose to keep the physical appearance that I want”. Not: “where can I do more”, but; “where can I do less and produce close to the same results”.

This made a giant shift in my energy-levels – exactly the result I wanted. And sure enough I can still maintain the appearance that I want. This of course also has a lot to do with me having paid my dues in the gym for 14-15 years – both in the aspect of muscle mass, but also in me knowing my body.

But it is my belief that, pushed by the endless slogans of the fitness industry, a lot of people has taking their training too far, giving it too much control over their lives, even though it deep down is not their main goal or priority. You can always do more, you can always push harder – but if you do not reserve your energy for your main priorities, then you are just pushing yourself towards exhaustion, overtraining and injuries.

Try to take a step back and look at what 20% of your efforts produce the 80% of results.

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, the best version

SImon & Brown left, Hays on the right
Simon & Brown left, Hays on the right

I can’t remember who initially led me towards Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, but ever since that first reference, I have stumble upon many, who recommended it. As with most books, I find being recommended, by several different people, I ended up buying it. I’m not new to stoicism in any way, and if my memory treats me well, this was probably the third book, that in some way or form revolved around stoicism. Therefore the kind of heavy-to-read old english was semi-expected.

I started reading it with fairly high expectations, but very motivated and certain that this little book – and it really is; physically small – should be over with, in no time. But man was I in for a shock!

The expected heavy-to-read old english, was more like immoveable-heavy. Reading it really took a strain on me everytime. There were some really, really good parts – absolutely no doubt about it! But overall, even with my enthusiasm and motivation, I finally had to give up. I had read about half of the book, which (laughable as it is) only equates to about 40 pages. I’m by no means a speed-reader, but I read a lot, and that would in “normal” books, probably be one or maximum two sittings, with the book. With this one is was more like 10-15 sittings.

Finally I put it back on the shelf and went on to read some other book, not really knowing when or if I would return to it.

Maybe half a year later, I read something about Meditations again, and someone commented, what was close to my experience about the book; that it was almost unreadable – to which some other guy replied; that the only version worth reading was the Hays translation. Hmm – grabbed my book and looked – not the Hays version. Maybe there was hope. I went straight to amazon, found the Hays translation and ordered it.

Even though I was in the midst of two other books when it arrived, I started reading it right away. I had to find out, if this translation really was that superior – and low an behold – it really was. This was readable english. The short chapters(books as he calls them) was perfect for reading through on a sitting. And as expected, I started making lots of marks in the book – the content was really good.

What recently struck me, being two thirds through the book was; that maybe this is even too readable english. Are some of the original messages, getting somewhat washed away, by a perhaps too readable translation? I went back through the “old” translation and compared notes with the new Hays translation – were there parts that rang more true in the old translation than in the new?

As it turns out there actually were. Here is an example, first from the Hays translation – where I had not marked it:

If an action or utterance is appropriate, then it’s appropriate for you. Don’t be put off by other people’s comments and criticism. If it’s right to say or do it, then it’s the right thing for you to do or say. The others obey their own lead, follow their own impulses. Don’t be distracted. Keep walking. Follow your own nature, and follow Nature – along the road they share.

Then the same passage from the “old” Simon & Brown edition – where I actually marked it:

Think thyself fit and worthy to speak, or to do anything that is according to nature, and let not the reproach, or report of some that may ensue upon it, ever deter thee. If it be right and honest to be spoken or done, undervalue not thyself so much, as to be discouraged from it. As for them, they have their own rational over-ruling part, and their own proper inclination: which thou must not stand and look about to take notice of, but go on straight, whither both thine own particular, and the common nature do lead thee; and the way of both these is but one.

This actually makes me question whether I at some point should pick up the “old” and heavy translation and fight my way through it.

First I complain about the text being too difficult to read, then I find the more readable translation and finally I find something to complain about, in that one as well. You just can’t seem to satisfy some people…

But where does this lead you, looking for the right translation to read? Strangely this is very easy for me to answer. Read the Hays translation: Meditations: A New Translation – at least at first. Read it because it’s actually readable. You may loose a little of the original content, but if it leaves you longing for more – buy the original(which there probably are a few of, mine is Simon and Brown edition) – after you read the hays version.

Delayed gratification in training

I had the idea for this post after watching a “Crossfit” session, in my gym, where one of the participants was unfortunate and got a bloody nose. Actually I have no idea how he got it, I only noticed him once he was laying on his back while the others were working out as crazy. But some characteristics about him, together with how he acted, led me to some probably wrong conclusions about him, but nevertheless conclusions which certainly fit others quite well, he was just the stimulus that popped the idea into my mind.

Training in itself is actually a manifestation of delayed gratification. You do something rather unpleasant now (training hard) in order to gain pleasure in the long run (getting in better shape and feeling better about yourself). This seems pretty obvious to most people, except for the ones who wants their training to be pleasurable, looks for the “easy” paths and ends up getting right back to square one or most likely; worse.

Without pain, there is no pleasure. Without struggle, no victory. Taking the easy way makes it less uncomfortable now, but also cuts the joy of the final result, which will be bland in comparison to the long harsh road.

Now why did I come to think of this, as I was looking at this guy laying on his back with paper sticking out of his bleeding nose. It came to my mind because of his physical shape. This guy was not extremely overweight, but easily the most chubby in that Crossfit class. Just showing up to a Crossfit class, in that condition, has taken quite some mental power. Big thumps-up for that part!

But what triggered my attention was him laying on the floor pretty early in the session, not in pain or anything, just with this annoying bleeding nose. I can imagine the internal fight he had gone through to show up; then getting started and feeling the pain of the exercises, the strain on the body, this internal dialog nagging him to stop and then all of a sudden the nose starts bleeding.

There are two ways to handle this; lay on your back, give up, tell yourself you went, but it weren’t your fault that you nose started bleeding – feel the pleasure of having ended your immediate pain; or try in every way to get that workout finished, even if you have to finish it with a mile worth of paper mashed into your nose to keep it from bleeding.

I know which one of the two that will make you feel good about yourself once you’re back home and which one of them will haunt you and make you feel bad about yourself, even though you in the moment convinced yourself, that you had done what you could. Deep down you know you didn’t.

My hopes are that he didn’t take it as too much of a defeat. To many of those, when you are already in a mental fight to get there in the first place, and you won’t be showing much past the end of January. But it is a long harsh road filled with one defeat after the other, once you have gotten really out of shape, you will have to deal with a lot of downs before you can reap the benefit of your work. Inverse; you can allow yourself quite a lot of slip, once you are really fit.

We all know this internal dialog that wants us to quit. Whenever we do something that pushes our limits, it is there. If you haven’t felt it recently, perhaps you have grown a bit too comfortable with your current training regime. Do some interval training, push yourself, lean a little beyond your edge and reap the benefits of feeling really good with yourself. It builds character, it builds confidence and you SHOULD be doing it.