When are these nomads working? Travel productivity surprise

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The Piszek family is on the road. We decided to escape the Polish cold and head south through Germany, Austria, and Italy. Check out my Instagram if you want to follow our route.

Bamberg, a charming small town in northern Bavaria.

One truism about travel states that it takes going halfway across the globe to discover who you really are. As it usually is with the cliches, it’s both cringy and true. The period of my biggest personal growth happened while I was studying abroad in Sweden, too far from my habits and friends to fall into the old patterns.

The same holds for work. While I am on parental leave and driving, wrangling the baby or the dog, my wife is working remotely. I’m quite impressed with her resolve and ability to do some actual work while sitting at the table of our RV when we’re on the motorway between Austria and Italy.

It’s bizarre that with ancient cities to visit and high mountains to scale, somehow we are usually both able to be more productive than in the comfortable, “perfect environment” of home. When you have something worthwhile to do, you don’t spend a moment procrastinating nor a minute longer than necessary to get ready. You do what you have to and somehow manage to achieve more.

One explanation would be Parkinson’s Law. It states that the work expands to fill all the time it has available. So when you really have a 3-hour task but have to fill the entire 8-hour workday, you’ll do that with ease and probably will clock in some overtime if you don’t have plans that day. The other reason is that we are underestimating the role that focus plays in our productivity. We still tend to count hours, disregarding their value. In my career, I had 5 hours of focused work more productive than 5 weeks of bumbling around in the office.

The value of each thing you’re doing follows a positively skewed distribution – 75% of the things you can focus on don’t really matter, and the value of the few important ones outweighs all the other ones. When you are driven to make progress, you focus on what matters.

The Deadline forcing function

I’ve known these things intellectually for a while now, yet I have trouble replicating the travel productivity surprise at home. I take too much time to make coffee. I browse the tasks to be done and nibble at the less important ones instead of boldly grabbing the meanest and toughest ones to gain progress.

Deadlines attempt to fabricate a similar productivity spike. Even if you’re moving them further and further before the launch, it motivates people to focus on the actual problems, not the vaguely relevant “nice to haves.”

Like all the other negative motivation tools, the deadline forcing function only works for a time. If your team learns that the deadlines don’t matter, they lose their effect. It’s called learned helplessness.

As a positive motivational tool with variable reinforcement, Travel productivity surprise doesn’t seem to lose its appeal the longer it’s in effect. I guess that explains how Nomads are able to achieve anything.

If you have an idea how to replicate this at home, please let me know. We’ll be traveling until then.

Deliberate Remote

In “High Quality Audio Makes You Sound Smarter” Thomas McKinley describes an experiment where people rated the online presenter as more intelligent, competent and likable when he had a good streaming setup.

In an experiment, people rated a physicist’s talk at a scientific conference as 19.3% better when they listened to it in high quality audio vs slightly distorted, echo-prone audio.

When audio quality is high (vs low), people judge the content as better and more important. They also judge the speaker as more intelligent, competent, and likable.

The one cheap fix is to focus on the microphone. Airpods pro may make you look better with no cable at all, but they gather sound from all around you. Headsets with boom microphones like Sennheiser SC-160 will be most portable and versatile. Matt Mullenweg (creator of WordPress) has a great comparison here.

Continuing the remote streaming topic, SP&X explores how fashion (particularly business fashion) may transition to the remote-first world. As the entire scene in your Zoom window is the equivalent of a 3-piece suit, your personal style extends beyond your attire (minus pants). Will fashion companies fill that need?

I want to see Gucci deliver a home studio build for their elite clients, that fully and completely ‘guccifies’ their space. Again, this is not reducible to the physical objects ordered in the visual field. It extends to the optics, to the lighting, maybe even the film grain of their digital feed, evoking 8mm film cameras, or anamorphic cinematograph

Until you have a ready Gucci streaming setup, invest in a good headset and put a little thought into your Zoom frame. You’ll look (and sound) like a pro!

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I write about the psychological and technical aspects of the Internet, focusing on remote work, online economy, and cognitive load. Every monday.

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