When are these nomads working? Travel productivity surprise

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!

You’re not lazy. You may just need accountability.

This post has been previously published on Maria’s blog

There’s plenty of advice that seems to work on everyone else but me. Todo lists are a great example. Whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed with having too much on my plate, someone inevitably suggests:

“Just create a todo list and start crossing things off.”

– A clueless person (sometimes known as my husband)

It works pretty well for a day or two, but then I see the backlog of all the things I hoped to do grow larger and larger, and at some point abandon the whole list in panic. There was once a todo list that I abandoned because I couldn’t stand the fact I still hadn’t bought that backpack I’d added there a few weeks before. This was over a year ago, and I’m nowhere closer to owning that backpack than I was back then.

I used to think this is because I’m extremely lazy and undisciplined. My fiancé somehow doesn’t have any problems with following up on the things he planned to do, why should I? I thought I need to shame myself more into working on things I haven’t done yet, or only let myself do cool stuff (like spending half a day out in the park) once I cross all the items off my todo list. In result I’d stay home, feeling guilty and grumpy, scrolling my Twitter feed, and wondering why I can’t make myself do all the things I am supposed to do. It certainly must be my weak character.

Four Tendencies

I’d probably still be thinking this way, if I hadn’t read The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin. It’s a very simple yet powerful framework for how different people respond to what’s expected of them. Artur explained more about how every type behaves on his blog, so you can check the details here. For me the most important discovery was that I’d much rather do something for a stranger, or even an imaginary stranger that only exists in my head, than I’d do it for myself, or even my partner, who’s too close to me to be recorded in my books as a separate person. In other words, I’m a classic Obliger who will go to such great lengths not to disappoint anyone that I’d give up on my dreams just so that they don’t conflict with someone else’s demands on my time.

When I first heard about this framework, my first reaction was to resist it. I understood it that I’m mostly driven by external expectations, but perhaps if I worked hard enough on changing my attitude, I’d be able to switch to a different type? A Questioner would be nice I think… I somehow felt that acknowledging that I’m not going to get anything done without external accountability would be admitting to my weakness. I thought that I should not require external support to accomplish my goals. I thought that’s a sign of weak character and immaturity.

I still perceived it this way on some level, until a friend on Twitter made a joke about a foam brick she occasionally sits on for the sake of a “sport”. This reminded me I too have a similar foam brick I’ve only maybe used once or twice, and I almost started feeling guilty about it. But then I realized, I’m super consistent in doing aerial yoga a few times each week. I don’t need to put it on my todo list, or to force myself to do this. I’m excited and looking forward to it. I’m no too lazy to practice, I just prefer to do it in a nice friendly studio with some nice friendly people rather than alone at home. Why should I ever feel guilty about such thing?

The same thing happened to me with my writing. I’ve been promising myself I would write more for at least two years, until I found two accountability buddies. Since then I’ve created something for this blog for 175 days in a row, no matter how much I had on my plate. I’m still writing mostly for myself, but knowing my buddies are there cheering for me is what actually keeps me going.

Knowing this, I should finally drop the idea that strong character can only be developed in solitude, and start actively seeking buddies in other areas of my life where I’m currently lacking motivation. I know the why behind the items on my todo list, but more often than not find it hard to follow through without external support. If you find yourself in the same position, stop beating yourself up and try looking for a buddy or a support group. Perhaps you’ll end up as excited about the things you want to do as I am now about blogging and aerial yoga.

Take a walk to get unstuck

Let’s start from the beginning.
Ever since Plato (423 BC), humanity was plagued by this notion of mind-body duality. Dark Ages have really entrenched the idea that the body is only a vehicle to move around our pristine and godly minds. The flesh pursuits are of lesser concern and don’t deserve much attention.

“Plato and Aristotle, conniving about derailing humanity’s understanding of mind-body connection”. By Raphael.

And this particular idea has seeped into western philosophy. We don’t pay specific attention to the link between the way we treat our bodies and mental performance

  • We try to “save time” by sacrificing sleep, resulting in severely diminished productivity and mental skills,
  • We sit all day on our asses, getting more and more stressed about some artificial situation, avoiding the solution that our bodies were built for,
  • We forget to hydrate or eat properly, because – of course – we “don’t have time.”

How taking a walk can help you get unstuck

Shinrin-Yoku

Japanese, forest bathing: The immersive experience of spending time in nature.

Spending time in nature has a profoundly therapeutic effect on thinking clarity, overall health, and is a surefire way to lower the stress levels. Shinrin-Yoku (forest bathing) is a recognized treatment in Japan, and British doctors are looking into prescriptions for mindful walks in the woods themselves.

Our bodies evolved in green space, surrounded by trees, shrubs, streams, and rocks. We are familiar with the wild in the core of our souls. This is where our ancestors lived their whole lives, honing their genome to fit the environment.
Is life in a concrete jungle so drab? Can a few hours in a forest significantly improve my mood? I set out to answer these questions.

For a few years now, I document my thoughts in a journal. I have an Evernote-based system, where I mostly rate the previous day and recap what happened.
I will expand on this in another post, but one of the valuable insights I was able to discover is the answer to the question


“What do my happy days have in common”?

Every quarter or so, I review my notes and try to tease out what consistently made me happy during this time.
Over and over again, spending time in nature (and preferably good swimming) is at the top of the list.
Maybe it is because I was a scout for 11 years, and I am trying to reproduce the conditions of my youth. But perhaps it is because I am a human being, and this is the environment where humanity was thriving in for millennia.

My Wife, recognizing the importance of trees and taking a walk.

I try to plan my life accordingly, but as you probably know – it intervenes sometimes. Deadlines pile up, work has to be done, and I forget what restorative effect a walk has on my thinking.
I forget that it clears my head and allows me to get a fresh perspective.
I tell myself: “Tomorrow, I don’t have time today.”

What does the science say?

The science says that I’m dumb.

“To improve your thinking skills, move.”

Chris Medina, “Brain Rules”

Moving can help our brains via several mechanisms:

  1. Moving means more cardiovascular action, which means more oxygen. Our brains REALLY like oxygen. Brains like oxygen how I like the georgian meat pies. Often and in any quantity.
  2. Moving means neurons firing in the brain. Think of it as a bit of a rhythm. By making the body move, the brain gets into a groove of action, and any cognitive tasks get accomplished easier.

“Your lifetime risk for general dementia is cut in half if you participate in physical activity. Aerobic exercise seems to be the key. With Alzheimer’s, the effect is even greater: Such exercise reduces your odds of getting the disease by more than 60 percent.”

John Medina, Brain Rules

Before you embark on spending an exciting 60 minutes on a treadmill, consider the messy outside world. Moving helps but to get the best results, combine it with spending time outdoors.

“People living near more green space reported less mental distress, even after adjusting for income, education, and employment”

This is your brain on nature, National Geographic

What could you do to combine the amazing effects of moving with restorative effects of spending time in the green? Guess what! Take a walk in the forest!

Would it help to convince you, if you knew Steve Jobs was pretty insistent on walking meetings?

Check out Outside Magazine amazing feature “The Nature Cure

Artur, but this is basic! DUH!

I clicked on your link expecting some insightful comment, and I don’t want to be lectured about such basic things!

I hear ya. But this advice needs repeating.

Intellectually knowing something is not enough. As Derek Sivers says, “If knowledge was the problem, we would all be billionaires with perfect abs.” We can know something is true and still act totally irrationally.
By all means, I am guilty of this as well. I sometimes discard this advice as “not serious enough” and “this is fine for those wellness people, but I have serious work to do.”
Intellectualizing is not the answer. If you care about doing something, you need to build a habit around it.

The Outside Challenge ™️

Do a test! Check if going outside is really for you.

  1. Get your ass outside first thing in the morning, for a week.
  2. Just walk around, notice things. DO NOT STARE AT YOUR PHONE.
  3. After 30 minutes, go back home.
  4. Be awesome!
  5. Crush your day.

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Remote work helps again.

I know not everybody has a nice green space near home.
But… If you worked remotely, what precludes you from living near a forest?
You could even have a view on the trees, getting the benefits of surrounding yourself in nature while you work.

Have you noticed that I post lots of pictures of my laptop opened somewhere in the wilderness?

Because for me, there is no better place to work than surrounded by tress, with wind on my face.

You don’t have to be in exotic place, or wait till the weekend to enjoy time in nature.

You can pick your laptop, hop on a bike (or into a car) and after an hour, you will most likely be in the forest. Yes, I’m pretty certain that they will have LTE coverage.

Now go outside and take a walk!


Book: Essentialism – the disciplined pursuit of less

0000039082This is such an easy concept to grasp, but so hard to implement. The core premise is

„You must do and only do what is essential”.

Intuitively we all know it – we have to focus our efforts and do important stuff instead of paddling on the river of constant unimportant thingies.

But interruptions are sneaky and try to redirect us from the way of essentialism.

Be it politeness, doing things „while we’re at it” or just lack of focus.

Doing only essential things is key to achieving anything.

Amazon link

This mindset – for me – is key to productivity. Instead of another productivity app and great todo-list system – we need to filter our todos and try to get rid of the non-essential. Much of productivity advice seems like majoring in minor things. people get better at managing lots of unessential tasks and then take on busywork because it makes them feel productive.

The main points of essentialism are:

  1. Do less, but better
  2. Instead of accomplishing everything, choose specific directions
  3. The process of choosing what is important and what is not is ongoing

Tim Ferriss actually touched upon many of these ideas in „Four Hour Workweek”. He calls this „choosing a lead domino” – doing the thing that if done correctly can render others obsolete or unimportant.

Essentialism is especially lacking in business, where agendas keep creeping in and growing out of proportion. People have great ideas and other people include them not to offend anyone. Doing things to please others is the biggest contributor to amassing non-essential todo list.

Tricks to avoid offending people

  • Seperate decision from the relationship
  • The awkward pause. Instead of being controlled by the threat of an awkward silence, own it. Use it as a tool. When a request comes to you (obviously this works only in person), just pause for a moment. Count to three before delivering your verdict. Or if you get a bit more bold, simply wait for the other person to fill the void.
  • The soft “no” (or the “no but”).
  • Say, “Yes. What should I deprioritise?”
  • Say it with humour.
  • “You are welcome to X. I am willing to Y.”
  • “I can’t do it, but X might be interested

 

My Kindle highlights

  • “Can I actually fulfil this request, given the time and resources I have?”
  • “Is this the very most important thing I should be doing with my time and resources right now?”
  • “Just because I was invited didn’t seem a good enough reason to attend.”
  • In this example is the basic value proposition of Essentialism: only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter.
  • Dieter Rams was the lead designer at Braun for many years. He is driven by the idea that almost everything is noise.
  • Weniger aber besser.
  • The word priority came into the English language in the 1400s. It was singular. It meant the very first or prior thing.
  • Only in the 1900s did we pluralise the term and start talking about priorities.
  • 1. EXPLORE AND EVALUATE
  • “Will this activity or effort make the highest possible contribution towards my goal?”
  • 2. ELIMINATE
  • What if schools eliminated busywork and replaced it with important projects that made a difference to the whole community?
  • What if businesses eliminated meaningless meetings and replaced them with space for people to think and work on their most important projects?
  • “If you could do only one thing with your life right now, what would you do?”
  • a choice is an action.
  • “You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.
  • we live in a world where almost everything is worthless and a very few things are exceptionally valuable.
  • According to Porter, “A strategic position is not sustainable unless there are trade-offs with other positions.”3 By
  • “Which problem do I want?”
  • Instead of asking, “What do I have to give up?” they ask, “What do I want to go big on?”
  • To discern what is truly essential we need space to think, time to look and listen, permission to play, wisdom to sleep, and the discipline to apply highly selective criteria to the choices we make.
  • When I say focus, I don’t mean simply picking a question or possibility and thinking about it obsessively. I mean creating the space to explore one hundred questions and possibilities. An Essentialist focuses the way our eyes focus; not by fixating on something but by constantly adjusting and adapting to the field of vision.
  • Today he still takes the time away from the daily distractions of running his foundation to simply think.
  • One practice I’ve found useful is simply to read something from classic literature (not a blog, or the newspaper, or the latest beach novel) for the first twenty minutes of the day.
  • WHERE IS THE KNOWLEDGE WE HAVE LOST IN INFORMATION?– T. S. Eliot
  • “I realised that journalism was not just about regurgitating the facts but about figuring out the point.
  • I have seen play reverse these effects in my own children. When they are stressed and things feel out of control, I get them to draw.
  • Our highest priority is to protect our ability to prioritise.
  • “If the answer isn’t a definite yes then it should be a no.”
  • If you rate it any lower than 90 per cent, then automatically change the rating to 0 and simply reject it. This way you avoid getting caught up in indecision, or worse, getting stuck with the 60s or 70s.
  • First, write down the opportunity. Second, write down a list of three “minimum criteria” the options would need to “pass” in order to be considered. Third, write down a list of three ideal or “extreme criteria” the options would need to “pass” in order to be considered.
  • The largely indistinguishable statements make the task almost impossible.
  • “What do you really want out of your career over the next five years?”
  • when people don’t know what the end game is, they are unclear about how to win, and as a result they make up their own game and their own rules as they vie for the manager’s favour.
  • An essential intent, on the other hand, is both inspirational and concrete, both meaningful and measurable
  • “If we could be truly excellent at only one thing, what would it be?”
  • ASK, “HOW WILL WE KNOW WHEN WE’RE DONE?”
  • they noticed that some of the most grandiose were actually the least inspiring.
  • It takes asking tough questions, making real trade-offs, and exercising serious discipline to cut out the competing priorities that distract us from our true intention.
  • COURAGE IS GRACE UNDER PRESSURE.
  • The right “no” spoken at the right time can change the course of history
  • A true Essentialist, Peter Drucker believed that “people are effective because they say no.”
  • SEPARATE THE DECISION FROM THE RELATIONSHIP
  • SAYING “NO” GRACEFULLY DOESN’T HAVE TO MEAN USING THE WORD
  • there are a variety of ways of refusing someone clearly and politely without actually using the word no.
  • REMEMBER THAT A CLEAR “NO” CAN BE MORE GRACEFUL THAN A VAGUE OR NONCOMMITTAL “YES”
  • a clear “I am going to pass on this” is far better than not getting back to someone or stringing them along with some noncommittal answer like “I will try to make this work”
  • Sunk-cost bias
  • “the endowment effect,” our tendency to undervalue things that aren’t ours and to overvalue things because we already own them.
  • PRETEND YOU DON’T OWN IT YET
  • Instead of asking, “How much do I value this item?” we should ask, “If I did not own this item, how much would I pay to obtain it?”
  • APPLY ZERO-BASED BUDGETING
  • In a reverse pilot you test whether removing an initiative or activity will have any negative consequences.
  • he said he thinks of the role of CEO as being the chief editor of the company.
  • as Stephen King has said, “kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”
  • “To write is human, to edit is divine.”
  • When sitting in a meeting, we can resist the urge to add our two cents. We can wait. We can observe. We can see how things develop.
  • NO IS A COMPLETE SENTENCE.—Anne Lamott
  • Jin-Yung1 was an employee of a technology company in Korea who found herself planning her wedding while simultaneously preparing for a board meeting that was to take place three weeks prior to her big day.
  • DON’T ROB PEOPLE OF THEIR PROBLEMS
  • The question is this: What is the “slowest hiker” in your job or your life?
  • BE CLEAR ABOUT THE ESSENTIAL INTENT
  • IDENTIFY THE “SLOWEST HIKER”
  • “What is the obstacle that, if removed, would make the majority of other obstacles disappear?”
  • As John Lasseter, the chief creative officer at Pixar and now Disney, said, “We don’t actually finish our films, we release them.”
  • DO THE MINIMAL VIABLE PREPARATION
  • “What is the minimal amount I could do right now to prepare?”
  • VISUALLY REWARD PROGRESS
  • With repetition, the connections strengthen and it becomes easier for the brain to activate them.
  • embedding our decisions into our routine allows us to channel that discipline towards some other essential activity.
  • “Focus on the hardest thing first.”
  • to operate at your highest level of contribution requires that you deliberately tune in to what is important in the here and now.
  • What we can’t do is concentrate on two things at the same time.
  • Multi-tasking itself is not the enemy of Essentialism; pretending we can “multi-focus”
  • After a moment of reflection I realised that until I knew what was important right now, what was important right now was to figure out what was important right now!
  • GET THE FUTURE OUT OF YOUR HEAD
  • “What might you want to do someday as a result of today?”
  • He spent three years not reading any newspapers because he found that their contents added only non-essential confusion to his life.
  • when he died he owned fewer than ten items.
  • on my worst days I have wondered if my tombstone will read, “He checked e-mail.”
  • continue to discover almost daily that I can do less and less – in order to contribute more.
  • Choosing to set aside a day each week where I don’t check any social media so I can be fully present at home
  • “fewer things done better”
  • “Clarity equals success.”
  • DEBATE UNTIL YOU HAVE ESTABLISHED A REALLY CLEAR (NOT PRETTY CLEAR) ESSENTIAL INTENT
  • Essentialist leaders speak succinctly, opting for restraint in their communication to keep the team focused