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)
We spend a majority of our days working in our job. This involves doing what we are, at least on the surface, hired to do. For many of us who have the privilege to work in offices, it is some mix of problem finding and problem solving, bringing people together to solve those problems, and selling – lots of selling.
Working on our jobs, on the other hand, is all about taking the time to get direction right. Are we investing in the right products? Are we developing the right skills to operate in our workplaces, build and sell these products? Are we set up to work on the stuff that matters? Are we building the relationships that help us working “in” our job better? Are we making directional progress in our careers?
Working in our jobs vs. working on our jobs is analogous to efficiency vs. effectiveness and managing vs. leading. Our natural bias tends to favor a focus on activity, busy-ness, and efficiency. That’s why it matters that we force ourselves to carve out time every week to ask ourselves the effectiveness questions.
As Peter Drucker wisely reminded us, there is nothing as useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.
Before we wade into that ocean of email/messages on other communication tools and start working away on everyone else’s priority list, the first question for Monday morning is – are we clear about the three main things that will help us move the needle this week?
It is okay if the three things evolve as we receive new information over the course of the week. It is also okay if we decide someone else’s main thing is more important than ours. It is just not okay to not have given our list of three things thought and definitely not okay to not have them written down someplace where they can be tracked.
In a workday with more communication tools than people we need to actually communicate with, the main challenge with getting things done remains the main thing. The main thing, it turns out, is to keep the main thing the main thing.
In the long run, everything else is gravy.
There’s all this noise. The news, the chatter about others we know, the chatter from others we know, the plaudits about the movers and shakers of the day, and everything else that we think we need to keep up with.
The default setting for the noise in our lives at this time is “on.” And, it is easy to forget that none of it matters unless we earn our livelihood by writing about the noise.
For most of the rest of us, all that counts is just what we do with what we control and how thoughtfully we do it.
The more time we can spend with the noise turned off, the more we’ll ship, the better we’ll get at shipping what we want to ship, and, if we’re thoughtful about it, we might learn a thing or two about living these days better.
So, let’s put those proverbial headphones and get to work.
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.
A way to measure success in post smartphone era weekends is to ask – how many times did you forget where your smartphone was?
I found myself forgetting about my phone for hours at a time on memorable weekends. So, I’ve begun starting weekends by leaving my phone in obscure places within the home (e.g. under the pillow). The more obscure the location, the less I check it, and the better the weekend.
Focus is the continuous, iterative process of keeping the main thing the main thing.
The verb and noun forms of “Focus” mean different things. For simplicity, I’m going to call the the noun form “intensity.” So, intensity is the ability to be 100% engaged in what you are doing at any given time.
Focus and intensity are analogous to effectiveness and efficiency or leadership and management. The former is about doing the right things and the latter is about doing things right.
As a result, the whole point of focus is to ensure that we’re optimizing for the entire-ity of the main thing or goal or how we will measure our life. It is easier to understand this with a manufacturing analogy. It is useless for a car manufacturer to produce more doors than a chassis requires. Similarly, it is pointless to optimize on one part of our goal (say, our career) if all else is suffering. Making progress on the main thing in its entire-ity is productivity. Everything else is activity.
So, focus is how we stay productive. That’s exactly why the process of doing so is continuous and iterative – it is hard to stay productive as life happens.
Finally, it is helpful to think of focus as we think of balance in our lives. We are always in the act of balancing, never completely balanced. Focus is no different.