Create more stuff

A welder's hands welding.

One of the simplest ways to feel better is to create more stuff.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re creating paintings, tree houses, comic books, or mobile apps.

You don’t even have to create good things. Not at first. You just have to create stuff that comes from you—so preferably not business memos, reports, or spreadsheets.

If you spend your days emailing and your evenings watching series, you probably don’t feel terribly fulfilled. 

To feel better, create more stuff.

Yours,

— Peter

First aid for when you’re stressed

A first aid box.

Feeling stressed? Losing control? Situation getting out of hand?

Here’s how you can get instant relief. Ask yourself:

Will this matter one year from today?

99 percent of the time, it won’t. You can safely let what’s stressing you out go. It doesn’t really matter. Let go again and again and again if need be.

If this thing will matter a year from now, the first aid technique is slightly different: focus on accepting the stress. You can even thank your body for putting you on high alert. Think of it as a reminder that you should do your best.

Either way, accept what’s happening. The more you accept what’s happening before you act, the less stress you’ll feel.

Yours,

— Peter

Unmotivated? Here’s why (probably)

A pug wrapped in a blanket.

Some days, it’s hard to get yourself to do your work. Other days, you effortlessly crush your tasks.

Why?

Motivation does not rain from the sky like manna. It’s mostly a function of a handful of variables:

  • How well did you sleep?
  • Have you eaten healthy food recently?
  • How much have you moved your body today?
  • Does your physical environment lend itself to getting stuff done?

If you’re having trouble motivating yourself, you could look for complex reasons why. Maybe you need more meaningful work. Maybe you need the pressure of an imminent deadline. Maybe you are just a lazy bum.

Those things might be true. Okay, not the bit about being a lazy bum.

Most of the time, you simply didn’t get the basics right.

Rather than wasting time, improve the fundamentals: take a nap, eat a salad, or go for a walk. Then try again.

If you get the basics right, motivation will usually follow.

Yours,

— Peter

When can you get the hard work done?

A man sitting on a concrete floor, looking down at some papers.

Yesterday I suggested that you do hard work early in your day. That’s because your cognitive capacity is highest early in the day, and because as the day goes on, distractions and interruptions can pile up.

I also suggested that you don’t get up earlier just to start working earlier. The caveat here is that if you also go to bed earlier, it might be fine. 

One reader responded that he is most productive from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. Nothing wrong with that! Assuming you get your full eight hours of sleep a night, that is… (If you sleep more, you can work fewer hours.)

If you are most productive at 5 a.m., then arrange your work days so you can work at that time.

But I would ask: why are the hours of 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. the most productive ones? Is it because those hours are relatively free of interruptions and distractions? Is it because that’s the only time of the day when you can work on something for two hours straight?

You can do easy work any time of day. The type of work that requires only 30% of your brain’s capacity—like answering most emails—doesn’t require sustained focus.

But the hard work, the important work—the deep work—I don’t believe you can do that efficiently with any meaningful distractions going on.

And usually the hardest work is disproportionally valuable. It’s the strategy memo you write for your boss. It’s the long-requested feature you add to the app you built. It’s the key chapter of your thesis.

What time can you get this type of hard work done, and why?

Yours,

— Peter

Do hard stuff early, but not at 5 a.m.

A woman getting out of bed.

One easy way to get more hard stuff done is to do it in the morning.

Simply change the order in which you do things so that the really valuable work comes early.

Early in your day, your cognitive capacity is highest. You’re fresh and you’re most capable of being creative, learning new things, and staying focused.

Doing the hard stuff early does not mean doing it at 5 a.m. Cutting your sleep short is the most counterproductive thing you can do.

For example, I tend to get up between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m., so when I do something “in the morning”, that typically means between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. The specific times don’t matter too much, as long as you’re sleeping enough.

If you need to say “no” to office meetings so you can have your morning hours back, then do that. Protect your most valuable hours of the day.

Yours,

— Peter

Be happy now

A woman with long hair swinging on a swing.

What would make you happy, if you got it?

When I speak with people about their plans for the future, they tend to assume, implicitly, that they will be happy after they achieve a particular thing.

“I’ll get an MBA and then I’ll work at a top consulting firm. [And then I’ll be happy.]”

“I’ll go traveling and work as a digital nomad. [And then I’ll be happy.]”

“I’ll do an internship at a government agency, so that after I graduate I can get a job there. [And then I’ll be happy.]”

There’s nothing wrong with striving. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to accomplish things. In fact, achievement is great! Achievement can make you feel proud, and pride is one of the purest forms of happiness.

But if you’re not happy during the journey, you probably won’t be happy when you get the result.

I don’t know how to prove this to you. I can tell you that I’ve experienced it, and that many others have experienced it as well. Maybe you yourself have noticed it when you reflected on a difficult thing you did.

Happiness comes from the process, not from the result. Yet so many of us make grand plans for the future. We plan to do this and then that and then that—and then we’ll be happy (we think).

But plans fail. What you want might change drastically. You might not live long enough for your plans to come to fruition. It’s a bad strategy to wait to be happy in the future.

I’m not telling you to fake happiness. That doesn’t work. You really might have to change some things to feel happier.

My point is: don’t make grandiose plans that will take years to generate—perhaps—some extra happiness.

What can you do today to genuinely feel a bit happier? What about this week? This month?

As much as you can: be happy now.

Yours,

— Peter