The 3 laws of effective breaks

The 3 laws of effective breaks –

1. The effectiveness of a break is directly proportional to the presence of natural objects (trees, natural food, even people we like) and inversely proportional to the presence of to man-made objects (laptops, phones, tall buildings).

2. The more effective the break, the more productive the rebound. Put differently, the more we disconnect today, the more productive we’ll be tomorrow.

3. The relationship between work and breaks/rest is best represented by a fractal – they need to work together at every level to be effective. (H/T Dustin Moskovitz)

Discipline equals freedom

Former Navy Seal Jocko Willink has a great note on Discipline = Freedom.


“Discipline equals freedom.” Everyone wants freedom. We want to be physically free and mentally free. We want to be financially free and we want more free time. But where does that freedom come from? How do we get it?

The answer is the opposite of freedom. The answer is discipline.

You want more free time? Follow a more disciplined time-management system.

You want financial freedom? Implement long-term financial discipline in your life.

Do you want to be physically free to move how you want, and to be free from many health issues caused by poor lifestyle choices? Then you have to have the discipline to eat healthy food and consistently work out.

We all want freedom. Discipline is the only way to get it.”


This is one of those powerful insights that often takes time for us to internalize. The idea that a great time management system is what we need to enjoy more free time is one that seems to not make sense until we experience it. And, all happy careers, lives, and relationships take years of disciplined work to make happen and survive.

There is a transitory kind of freedom that comes with shirking discipline and responsibilities. But, if we desire the kind of freedom that stays with us, discipline is our best friend.

(H/T Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferriss for the Jocko Willink note)

How to identify bad advice

You’re trying to make an important decision and you find that there’s a lot of advice flying around. Sadly, you soon realize that most of it isn’t good and very little of it is actually useful. How do you make it easier for yourself to identify bad advice?

There’s a lot in my sketch (below). So, here are the 3 key takeaways –

  1. Great advice has 2 characteristics – it is based on principles and it is intended for your benefit. Great advice is incredibly rare because it requires a lot of thought to get to the principles and in-person investment to understand your specific context.
  2. On the flip side, bad advice is what you hear 80%+ of the time. The most telling characteristic of bad advice is that the giver either speaks to himself/herself or to his/her interests. Combine this with a random jumble of thoughts and anecdotes and it is easy to spot. Most bad advice is a result of absence of “skin in the game” (H/T N N Taleb). When someone says something is ‘good for you’ when it is also good for them and when they don’t face the downside of the decision, it is likely not good for you. Think: Peter Thiel telling you to drop out of school.
  3. We are all asked for advice by folks around us. To become someone who gives generally useful advice, we need to combine 2 things – 1) Think in terms of principles – i.e. truths that are applicable across contexts (hard to do) and take the time to structure your advice, and 2) Stop giving advice to yourself (very hard to do). As a bonus – this scales as it doesn’t need to be personalized.

I hope you find this useful.

The Law of Minor Annoyances

The Law of Minor Annoyances: Minor annoyances expand to fill any and all available mental bandwidth you make available to them.

We encounter minor annoyances everyday in the form of small frustrations, little spats, doses of bad luck, and irksome exchanges. If left unchecked, they fester, become major annoyances, and cloud all perspective.

Much of our daily happiness at work and at home, then, depends on our ability to understand and apply the law of minor annoyances. The more we learn to let go, the more happier and more productive we will be.

“Be yourself” can be really bad advice

There’s a category of advice that sounds good in theory but is pretty bad in practice. “Follow your passion” is one example. “Be yourself” is another.

The issue with “be yourself” is that it reeks of the fixed mindset and gets in the way of self improvement. It does so by encouraging the “This is just who I am – take it or leave it” mindset.

That is not to say we can change everything about ourselves. If you are an impatient person (speaking to myself) by nature, you are not going to become the most patient. But, you don’t have to either. Our traits and temperaments are part of a spectrum and we can always put in the work to stretch ourselves to move along that spectrum and learn to be flexible with how we apply ourselves in situations.

Put differently, if who you are is getting in the way of what you’d like to get done, stop being yourself and get better.

Perhaps a better piece of advice would be to ask folks to “become yourself.” It doesn’t just add a necessary air of intrigue to what is a fascinating lifetime journey of discovering our ever expanding capacity for change, it also focuses the journey on growth.

Besides, as Carol Dweck might say, becoming is better than being anyway.

Doing the opposite

The best source of feedback that will help you get better is you. No one understands that combination of context, the natural impulse, and the internal decision making process that led to the final action better than you. Giving ourselves feedback is a skill worth developing and a principle I’ve found particularly helpful is “Doing the opposite.”

The most challenging kind of feedback is the one that involves finding the right balance between a great strength and its corresponding weakness. This is where doing the opposite helps a lot. For example, here a few experiment ideas –

(1) If you have trouble being assertive during meetings, walk into every meeting reminding yourself to be assertive for a few months.

(2) On the other hand, if you, like me, default to being loud and provocative, again, do the opposite.

(3) If you default to being pushy and impatient when you want to get something, work on relying on “pull” in every instance.

By pushing us to stretch and do something that isn’t natural, doing the opposite helps us develop a range of styles. This, in turn, helps us develop the ability to apply the right behavior in the right context. There are times when being provocative or pushy is helpful. But, it isn’t all the time.

A wonderful other side effect of doing the opposite is that it makes us realize we are all more malleable than we think. Once we get started down the path, experimenting on changing our style becomes a lot more fun. And, given we’re going to be doing plenty of it in our lifetime, it helps if we’re having fun.

PS: I’m actively working on challenge (2) as of the last more recent (~18 months), I’ve made a lot more headway on (3) over the last 5 years or so. For folks who know me now and still think I’m pushy, I’m glad you didn’t meet me 5 years ago. :-)

The law of unattraction and problem solving

The law of attraction implies that when you really want something the universe conspires to make it happen. The law of unattraction (an ALearningaDay creation) offers the counter point – “The universe makes something happen when you have put in your best effort and are ready to walk away.” 

The law of unattraction was born out of personal experience. For the longest time, I used to struggle with pushing a result through to no avail resulting in plenty of frustration. And, often, just as I’d resolve to walk away or actually distance myself, it’d come through. Why waste time in all the angst and frustration then?

I’ve been thinking about the law of unattraction again of late and its applicability to problem solving. We don’t have breakthroughs-on-demand on problems we want solved. Instead, they pop up when we’re in the gym, in the shower, or on a walk. The key, then, is to identify the problems we want to solve and give ourselves enough space for our subconscious to do the work.

So, take those breaks in the middle of the day, go for walks, and disconnect from the email flow in the evening to create more space. If the law of attraction isn’t helping you often enough, create opportunities for the law of unattraction to work its magic.