A very fast read in the Gladwell style. Interesting, potentially actionable advice on how to make the most of time. The last chapter is particularly worth reading.
CAUTION: Probably extrapolates unjustifiably from scientific papers to general principles.
My chronotype is probably the reasonably early ‘Third Bird’ – not a Lark and not an Owl (these are relatively rare). I seem to peak around 1030-1300, have a dip in the afternoon and (sometimes) bounce back in the evenings.
Analytic tasks I should do in the early to midmorning when my brain is at its most vigilant. This is also a good time for making important decisions.
Insight tasks I should do in the late afternoon or early evening when my brain is less vigilant and therefore allows more disparate connections to come through.
When trying to make a positive impression one should always schedule for the morning.
Take loads of complete and active breaks from work, ideally outside in nature, ideally with friends.
Don’t sit for too long at a time. Perhaps split 50 minute work bursts with 15 minute breaks. Short naps of less than 25 minutes are good. Longer naps are troublesome.
Follow your chronotype, so for me: work hard in the morning, take a complete break in the afternoon, and resume for a lighter, more creative session in the evening.
Avoid a false start with a premortem: “Assume it’s 18 months from now and our project is a complete disaster. What went wrong?” Make your mistakes in advance in your head rather than in real life on a real project.
Use the calendar to make a fresh start. Everyone uses New Year’s Day and their birthday, but exploit others like the first day of Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, the first day of the month, the first day of the week, family birthdays and so forth.
Sustain your morale with small wins (Karl Weick’s research). Wins needn’t be large to be meaningful. Succeed 24 hours at a time. Set up ‘high probability’ targets and celebrate their completion.
5 ways to reawaken your motivation during a midpoint slump:
- Set interim goals. Instead of imagining your distance from the finish line, concentrate on getting to the next mile marker.
- Publicly commit to these interim goals.
- Stop your sentence midway through – the Hemingway technique.
- Don’t break the chain – the Seinfeld technique.
- Picture one person your work will help and dedicate your day’s work to them.
When teams first get together, they often spend a lot of time getting to know each other. Progress only really kicks on at the midpoint when they realise how much time they’ve used up! So don’t panic. The first half is valuable bonding time. Teams generally become less open to new ideas as time goes on, but become more open to coaching and outside guidance.
Five ways to combat a midlife slump:
- Prioritise your top goals – the Buffett technique. List your 25 top goals. Then circle the 5 toppermost. Focus on them and them alone. Ignore the others completely until your first five are achieved.
- Develop midcareer mentors to continue guiding and supporting you.
- Mentally subtract positive events – the It’s A Wonderful Life technique. Begin by thinking about something positive in your life. Then list all the circumstances that made it possible. Write down all the events, circumstances and decisions that might never have happened. Imagine your life without that chain of events and without that huge positive in your life. Now return to the present and remind yourself that life did go that way. Consider the happy, beautiful randomness that brought that person or opportunity into your life. Be grateful. Minkyung Koo et al (2008)
- Write yourself a few paragraphs of self-compassion from the perspective of an unconditionally loving imaginary friend.
- Wait. Slumps are normal, but they’re also short-lived. Think of it as a cold: a nuisance, but eventually it’ll go away and when it does you’ll barely remember it.
When to quit your job: three questions. If you answer ‘no’ to two or more, think about crafting an end.
- Do you want to be in this job on your next work anniversary?
- Is your current job both demanding and in your control?
- Does your boss allow you to do your best work?
- Are you outside the 3-5 year salary bump window? Moving jobs when you’ve been at a company for 3-5 years is more likely to result in a wage increase at your next.
- Does your daily work align with your long-term personal goals?
Making progress is the single largest day-to-day motivator on the job. So take a moment to record your progress today. While you’re at it, write down a plan for tomorrow. And send someone a thank-you note.
Use endings to create a sense of meaning. When a project comes to an end, bring things full circle. Offer toasts to each other; write a letter to your future self and post it in 6 months’ time; make pancakes. Create an elevating final moment to remember with poignancy.
Syncing with others
- Sing in a choir.
- Run together.
- Join a rowing crew.
- Join a yoga class.
- Flash mob.
- Cook in tandem.
For groups: make sure there is a clear boss or external standard; foster a sense of belonging that enriches individual identity and deepens affiliation with the tribe; activate the uplift, feel good and do good.
“Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.”
Thinking fondly of the past is good for us. Nostalgia gives us a sense of meaning and a connection to others. It literally makes us feel warmer and more tolerant of the cold.
Thinking of the future – and feeling connected to our future selves – is also good for us. It increases the likelihood of us treating that future self well by quitting smoking or saving for a pension. Think of the future in terms of days not decades – bring that future self closer.
Thinking of the present is also good. Send your future self a time capsule of the present moment – the last three songs you listened to, an inside joke, the last social event you attended, a recent photo, etc.. People underestimate the value of rediscovering current experiences in the future – it’ll be far more meaningful than you expect.
And of course: experience awe. Awe brings people into the present moment. Time slows down, expands and it feels like we have more of it. That sensation lifts our well-being.
Taken together, all of these studies suggest that the path to a life of meaning and significance isn’t to ‘live in the present’ as so many spiritual gurus have advised. It is to integrate our perspectives on time into a coherent whole, one that helps us comprehend who we are and why we’re here.