Anything, but not everything

Yesterday, a coaching client mentioned that she hates certain marketing channels.

To get new customers, she could blog, get on the phone with people, email them, or contact them on social media—but some of these do not align with her values.

Problem is, a friend told her that one of these channels (one that my client hates) is amazing for generating leads. Should she suck it up and do it anyway so that she can build her business?

My client can’t rule out all marketing channels. So it’s not as simple as “if there’s something you don’t want to do, don’t do it”.

Here’s a better way to think about it:

One of my favorite blogs is Paula Pant’s Afford Anything. It’s about achieving financial independence using passive income. Paula likes to say that in life, you can afford anything, but not everything.

Let’s adapt this motto: when it comes to things you don’t want to do, you can rule out anything, but not everything.

Yours,

— Peter

Feel overwhelmed? Review your projects

The feeling of having too much to do can be paralyzing. There’s so much to do; where should you start?

One way to get out of this situation is to start just anywhere. When you have a lot of tasks to do, completing one of them might be better than completing none of them. Plus, once you complete one task, it’s often easy to move on to the next, as you generate momentum.

The strategy of starting just anywhere works well when all your tasks are of similar importance and urgency. But when you are juggling many projects that are not equally important or urgent, there’s a better way to stop feeling overwhelmed:

Review your projects.

Reviewing your projects means examining them one by one to make sure your lists of what you want to do are up to date.

I suggest you review all your projects every week—and if you use software like OmniFocus, this is super easy to do—but you can also do an impromptu review as an antidote to overwhelm.

Here’s what I recommend for a simple review:

  1. Look through all items on your physical desk and create to-dos for any items that require you to take action.
  2. Ditto with any other inboxes you have (e.g. your email inbox or your computer’s desktop). Create to-dos as needed. Don’t do the things right away, but write them down for future doing.
  3. Assign each of the tasks you’ve just identified to a project.
  4. For each project, ask yourself: do I still want to do this? Can I delegate it to someone else? Can I defer it until later?
  5. For each task within each project, ask yourself the same questions.
  6. Check which tasks and projects are due in the coming days and weeks.
  7. Plan what you’ll do and when you’ll do it for the remainder of your work day.
  8. If you like, plan tomorrow as well.

If you’re like me, when you’re overwhelmed you might have the urge to work harder and harder, to try to reduce the size of your to-do list. But that strategy can backfire, as you might end up working on less important tasks. Working harder might also stress you out and be counterproductive.

Try to resist that urge to work harder and check off as many tasks as possible. Instead, do a review, so it’s clear what you should work on first.

You’ll end up making more progress towards your goals that way, and you’ll feel calmer while you’re at it.

Yours,

— Peter

Using pride to beat procrastination

Been putting off work recently?

I feel you. Sometimes you know that Future You would appreciate it if you worked right now, but you just can’t get yourself to do it.

A few weeks ago, I discovered a new way to beat procrastination—thank you, Jonathan Stark—and I wanted to share it with you because it has worked so well for me. Here’s how it works:

Choose something that makes you feel proud. Then do it every day.

This might sound like I’m telling you to “just do the work”, but this is more specific. This technique has you doing something that makes you feel proud and it has you doing it every day.

You’ve probably noticed that I have been writing and publishing daily for a bit now. At first, I thought it would be difficult to write every day, but it’s much easier than I expected. Why?

Writing and publishing makes me feel proud every day. Because it does, it’s much easier to sit down and write the next day. I know I’ll feel good afterwards, because I felt proud yesterday, the day before yesterday, the day before that, etc.

You can use this technique too. Pick something that makes you feel proud and do that thing every day. Not “do something that makes you feel proud every day”—remove the element of choice. Pick one thing and do that thing.

If you’re writing a thesis, it could be “write 500 words”. If you’re starting a side hustle, it could be “send a personalized email to two potential customers”. Or if you’re writing software, you could refactor one existing chunk of code every day.

Doing this thing every day is important because the feeling of pride won’t last very long. If you commit to doing it only once a week, by next week you might no longer feel last week’s pride. And then you can’t use that pride to motivate you next week.

Pride is a powerful feeling. Use it to your advantage.

What will you commit to doing every day?

Yours,

— Peter

A miracle drug for your productivity

Let’s say I developed a medicine that:

  • increases your productivity;
  • boosts your motivation;
  • lowers your stress level;
  • decreases your risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease, various types of cancer, or diabetes;
  • strengthens your immune system;
  • makes it less likely that you’ll become overweight;
  • reduces the chance that you’ll suffer from mental health problems;
  • and just all around makes you feel better.

How much would you pay for this drug? How many dollars, euros, rupees, or rubles per month?

I’d pay quite a bit for such a medicine.

And what if you could buy this medicine with time? How much time would this medicine be worth to you?

See, this medicine exists: it’s sleep.

Getting a full night’s sleep—compared with sleeping only six or seven hours a night—has all the benefits I listed above, and more. But many people consistently get too little sleep. What about you?

I know it’s difficult to get that full night’s sleep every night. It’s difficult for me sometimes too. Competing priorities get in the way. But sleep is so good for us that we do ourselves a disservice when we don’t get enough of it.

If you’re not sleeping eight hours a night or more, how could I convince you to?

Are you more easily convinced by scientific studies? In that case, read Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep on the science behind the benefits I listed above.

Or would it convince you to learn that many spectacularly productive people, such as Arianna Huffington, Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, and Sheryl Sandberg and Jeff Bezos get plenty of sleep? Productivity does not require sacrificing sleep.

Either way, if you’re serious about working productively, please try this miracle drug.

Yours,

— Peter

When you don’t feel like working

When a plumber doesn’t feel like going to work, he goes anyway. When you don’t feel like working, what do you do?

If the plumber decides not to show up for appointments because he doesn’t feel like it, he’ll soon be out of business.

For knowledge workers, the consequences of not showing up are very different. If you’re a knowledge worker, you might have a great deal of autonomy in choosing when and where to work. Maybe you even routinely have the luxury of choosing what to work on.

If you, the knowledge worker, take a few days off, that might have no serious consequences. In fact, taking frequent breaks is essential for getting knowledge work done.

There’s a downside, though, to having the latitude to decide when and where to work. You’ll face choices more often: work now, or take a break? Push through resistance or recharge your batteries?

Depending on your habits and your personality, you might benefit from a little more discipline or from taking it a little bit easier. The tricky part is figuring out what’s best for you.

So, do you need to act more like a plumber?

Yours,

— Peter

What I learned about working from home

Working from home can be incredibly freeing if you otherwise work in an office year-round. But if you have a corporate job, how can you work from home without your boss or coworkers raising questions?

A few years ago, I was working long hours at a corporate job and I had a horribly long commute. At one point, I simply decided to take a day off in the middle of the week.

Instead of commuting twice and being in the office for ten hours, I simply grabbed a book and walked to a coffee shop.

It blew my mind how free I felt.

Here I was, when almost everyone I knew was at work, and I was enjoying a fantastic cup of coffee and a pastry while reading about the history of the Roman Empire. It helped that I was living in San Francisco, so that after reading for a while I could walk through a sunny city with beautiful parks.

Looking back now, this was a key moment. After I sampled this freedom, I knew I couldn’t stay in corporate for long.

I wanted to enjoy this freedom more often. But like most people, I didn’t have that many days off. So instead of taking days off, I started working from home or from a coffee shop now and then.

A day off brought the most freedom, but working from home I still felt so much more free than when I was at the office.

But you can’t just stop showing up at the office and expect everything to be okay. In fact, I quickly learned that there’s one thing you absolutely must do when you’re working from home:

Communicate, communicate, communicate.

When you work remotely, your coworkers and your boss don’t see you. Regardless of your productivity at home or in that coffee shop, some people might assume that when they don’t see you, you’re not working.

To avoid questions about your productivity, try emailing your team in the morning and tell them what you plan to work on. And at the end of the day, send an email with an update on the progress you made. (Or better yet, use a tool like Basecamp and post the updates there.)

Don’t expect people to assume that you’re working productively at home, or that you’re even working at all. Show them.

Even if your day was not very productive, just mention what you did do. It’s a lot better than staying quiet all day.

If you have a corporate job, I want you to be able to experience that same feeling of freedom that I did when I first started working from home. But if you work remotely, do it right by communicating more than you’re used to.

Yours,

— Peter