Stop Procrastinating and Get Started in just 10 Minutes

Procrastinating is really all about being afraid to begin. Follow these quick exercises to work out why you are scared and how to move through it.

Via Pixabay

Procrastination isn’t a sign of laziness, it is a sign of fear. It isn’t about not wanting to do the work, it is about being too overwhelmed to start.

There is a lot of pressure around the start of a project. It feels like a commitment, we are deciding to work on one thing and not another, and so there are doubts around that decision and the stress of taking a decision at all. We also often overestimate the importance of the work done at the beginning, as though it will determine the outcome of the project. That isn’t true. You can do basically anything at the beginning of a project, it should be the most fun part, the part which involves throwing ideas around, the part where you are the least hemmed in. And yet instead it is the part which we fill with the most apprehension. The work you do at the beginning isn’t like the foundations of a house, it doesn't have to be perfect or else the entire edifice will collapse. The work you do at the beginning is the warm-up. It is a training session. It can be totally invisible in the final product.

The important thing at the beginning is not to get off to the perfect start, it is just to take action, any form of action, and chase away the fears that are making you procrastinate.

In just ten minutes, you can conquer those fears.

Spend two minutes identifying what is driving your fear.

There are four main reasons you might be afraid to get started:

  • You have too many ideas and are afraid to commit to one
  • Your mind is suddenly blank and you have no inspiration at all
  • You feel like you’re going to make a mess of things and are putting a lot of pressure on yourself
  • You have no idea where to start

Examine your emotions, write down on a piece of paper the things that worry you about the project you are about to get started on and see which category they fit into the best.

Spend eight minutes doing the corresponding exercise

  • Too many ideas?

This can mean having too many ideas of projects and not being able to get started on any single one, or it can mean having too many ideas about how to tackle your particular project and not being sure which to pick.

Begin by making a list of all the angles or projects that are trotting around your brain. Reread it. See which stand out, which your instinct tells you is right. That is your shortlist.

In the case of choosing a project, ask yourself if any of them are time-sensitive — for instance, an article linked to a certain upcoming event. If so, start with that project. If not, sometimes it is best just to let the universe decide. Draw one idea out of a hat. Schedule the others for the coming days or weeks.

If you are choosing an angle on a piece of work you are already sure of, begin by seeing if any of them can be joined together. Maybe one angle could really just be a paragraph in a piece with a different focus. If not, open a word document, type out all the different ideas. Those will be the things you follow up on, do more research until your instinct tells you which to follow. And if that never happens, pick one angle out of a hat.

The next step: conduct research into each of the ideas left on your shortlist.

  • Lack of inspiration?

Put a timer on for eight minutes, and write down every thought that comes into your mind. Even if they have nothing to do with the project. Just let the words flow. Analyse every element of the topic — what exactly is the brief? What does that mean? This “brain drop” will give your imagination free space to roam. Ideally, you should do this in a place without any distractions, a place where your imagination generally feels stimulated. For me, it works best in a park or anywhere outdoors, but you might prefer home, in a warm bath or in a café.

Next step: do something boring, like washing up or ironing or walking around the block. Don’t take a phone, don’t listen to music. Ideas will continue to pop into your mind.

  • Fear of failure?

This fear can be harder to identify, because it often just makes you feel nervous or blank. The problem is usually a lack of self-confidence, or the fact that you are putting too much pressure on yourself, thinking of this project as the make-or-break event of your career. The problem here isn’t in the work at all, but in your mind.

Take a sheet of paper and answer three questions:

  • What is the worst thing that could happen?
  • How could I bounce back from that?
  • What past projects have made me proud, what have they taught me about my own abilities?

If you are into rituals and hippiedom, like me, you can make a ritual out of this. Light a candle or some incense. Put on some relaxing music and put yourself in an environment which makes you relax. Breath deeply.

Once you have finished, keep this list visible on your desk or working space and reread it whenever you feel scared or lost.

Next step: write a to-do list broken down into small, non-threatening steps (see below).

  • No idea where to start?

Take a sheet of paper and separate it into categories according to the different kinds of activities go into doing a project. For writing, I usually make the categories Contact, Research and Write. In Contact I write the names or professions of anyone I would like to talk to, Research can be books to read or facts and figures to pull up, and in Write I jot down any sections I know I will write, or any ideas concerning the final piece. Do a six-minute brain drop where you write down any task that comes to mind in the corresponding section. Then reread what you have done, highlight priorities and order your tasks into a to-do list. For big tasks, break them down into sections. You should end up with a list of small, clearly defined steps.

Next step: just do number one on the list!

Whatever category you are in, it is important to stick to the ten minutes. Your mind needs to know, going in, that it will just be working for ten minutes, and then it can stop. Then take a break. If you are on a short deadline, make it a short break and then start work again for half an hour to an hour.

I do these short exercises whenever I catch myself procrastinating. I hope they can be useful for you, too, and if you have your own tricks and tips I would love to hear about them in the comments section!

Joining the New Years Resolution Bandwagon

Most people get really excited about setting new year resolutions and then as February kicks in and the feeling of a brand new year starts fading, the goals start collecting dust too. I have never set myself goals specifically for the New Year but as I approach my 26th next year and getting closer to my 30s than my 20s, there are a few things I want to start taking and doing seriously.

Now some of these things have kept me up at night since I was 18 and have motivated me to keep going when things weren’t all glitter and rainbows. Here are some top level goals of the many others which would take up too much space.

We talk a lot of about specialism and focus, but when it comes to causes, I have tended to be a generalist, dipping my toes in a lot of different buckets. From teaching English, paying for medical surgery, donating books and clothes, raising awareness on political rights, science and role models.

But in 2018 I specifically want to focus on establishing a scholarship for one disadvantaged girl’s education in India to begin with along with empowering girls across developing girls with code education via the Ed Tech startup I work at.

Continue exchanging post cards with refugee kids of Myanmar in Malaysia, what started as a fun way to spend a few hours of the weekend, highlighted a real issue of the lack of education and basic literacy skills they get due to their status and by exchanging post cards with us in London on a regular basis these kids get a chance to smile, be creative, be heard and feel important.

Increase the events I experimented with in 2017 to bring communities together over food tackling social exclusion and focus this on the homeless.

Start creating Art again, my love of writing poems and sketching stopped when the hustle and stress of life increased after moving to a different country, engulfing my time with a lot of administrative task, hopefully creating this art with some refugee kids and start organizing the art exhibitions again that I did in the summer of 2017.

And the musing continues…


Alps Sunrise — New Beginnings

Planning for my Digital Declutter Experiment

Early in December, Cal Newport sent an email asking if anyone wanted to participate in his Digital Declutter Experiment. He is the author of “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World,” a book that changed my working habits last year. I reference that book every chance I get. I responded to his email within seven minutes of the sent time, which was a clear indication to me that I needed this experiment in 2018.

I consider myself fairly disciplined when it comes to digital media. I gave up my smartphone for 18 months. I refuse to install Facebook on my phone. I use the StayFocusd browser extension when I need to work. I use a regular alarm clock at home instead of my phone. When I’m out to dinner, I try to be present and keep my phone in my purse. I felt more in touch after reading Adam Alter’s book, “Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping us Hooked.”

But when I really think about it, digital technology consumes my daily life.

My email is almost always open and ready to distract me. I pride myself on responding to students as soon as I can. I scroll through my Instagram feed when I’m bored. I’ve probably already watched the latest MarieTV episode by noon on Tuesdays, the same morning she posts them. If you text me, I’ll probably see it immediately. My weekly print issues of Time already feel outdated when they arrive because I’ve been following the news too closely. I know too much about Meghan Markle’s life, not to mention the classmates from high school and their children that I’ve never met.

So the Digital Declutter Experiment coinciding with the new year made perfect sense for me. I’m writing this the day before we begin — January 1st. The experiment lasts for a month.

Cal Newport decided to give us vague guidelines on purpose. I threw a mini-tantrum in my head. “What?! No strict rules to follow? Doesn’t he know I’m an upholder?!” And then the social scientist side kicked in, “Wait, experiments have rules! We should be taking a pre-test and a post-test! We need operational definitions!”

Deep breath — I get to make this my own.

So here are my rules (many of these line up with the original guidelines):

  • Only check and respond to email 3 times a day (thanks to Inbox Pause for making this easy to implement).
  • I will not read the news online (this includes removing NPR from my Amazon Echo daily briefings).
  • I will not browse the internet for entertainment.
  • I will not mindlessly search on Facebook (thanks to News Feed Eradicator, this is already a lot easier).
  • I will check Instagram and Twitter only once per day.
  • I will not engage with my smartphone until after my first cup of coffee.

Working on these habits will change my January and workflow. My digital declutter experiment will give me the chance to engage in more deep work, especially writing. I’ll be writing about my progress each week this month.

I hope you’ll join us with your own digital decluttering experiment. What rules would you add or change for yourself?

My Daily Habits: A Day In My Life.

Once I’m in the office, the first thing I do is check my work phone. Notice how I don’t do this earlier? The reason is that I want my journey to work to be a good one.

I don’t want work to distract me when most of the time there’s nothing I can do about it until I get to the office anyway. My trip to work is always combined with a podcast from either Tim Ferriss, Gary Vee or Lewis Howes.

Important to note that this habit doesn’t occur all of the time. Nothing is ever going to be the same every day. What I’m documenting here is how it happens most of the time so you get an idea of how you can shape your own habits for success.

I’ve followed the success habits of people that have done cool stuff. In comparison, my list may seem mediocre and I’m okay with that.

I believe that as long as your passion is prioritized in your day and you’re spending a bit of time with the people that matter to you, you’ll be successful.

The reality is that some of these habit lists you see are just plain crap. They’re not practical and the person writing them is exaggerating what they do. Every day is going to be a bit different and that’s normal. You can’t be a robot trying to follow exactly the same list of tasks every day. We need variety as humans.

Repeat habits that support your goals.
Stay healthy and keep your energy levels up.
Spend time with the people you care about.
Prioritise what is important to you and no one else.

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How to begin questioning

Truly “getting good” at asking deliberate questions requires much more than just reading a checklist of quick tips. If you care about developing this skill, you’ll have to start studying and practicing as part of your daily habits.

Readers of the DQM blog have already learned What deliberate questions are and Why they matter. If you aren’t familiar with these concepts, either go read the posts that are hyper-linked above, or stop reading now. (Really, this post will be a waste of time if you don’t already understand the DQM framework…and I’m not a fan of wasting time whether it’s mine or yours.)

For those who do understand what DQ’s are and why they matter, you should also ask yourself if you care enough to put forth the required work to develop these skills. It will require effort, patience, and practice. As with any life skill, cultivating this habit will create value which far outweighs the work…but it will still require work.

Consider this article like a roadmap which describes how to get from point A to point B. The actual amount of effort required to make progress down this path will vary for each person. Cultivating such a powerful habit is not an easy job, so be ready to put in real work!

“Knowing and using the appropriate questions, at the appropriate times, asking the appropriate people, and obtaining what you need in addition to communicating what you want is an extremely difficult job.”

-The Art of Asking: Ask Better Questions, Get Better answers
By Terry J Fadem

Remember: by no means do I think this short post can provide enough information and practice to take you from an average person to a power questioner. That is not my purpose here. The purpose of this post is to list out the most important steps and helpful tips that will get you started down the path of using questions more powerfully to your advantage.

Critical Steps for Becoming a Power Questioner:

  1. Start a Question Notebook Whenever you hear a good question by someone else, write it down. Whenever you are headed into an important meeting or phone call, write down a good DQ that you can use. Whenever you learn something new about question thinking, write it down. Learn more about the Question Notebook here.
  2. Practice. Everyone wants a ‘cheat’ or ‘life hack’ to simplify the amount of effort required. Well, this is one case where you have to put in the work to get the results. I have no magic pill that you can take to tap into the power within your brain (if I did, I’m certain I’d be spending my time and money galavanting the world rather than sitting at my computer writing). One of the most difficult parts of developing a new skill is simply remembering/caring to practice regularly. There are many great blogs and books about developing strong habits, a good starter would be The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.While remembering to practice is largely going to be your responsibility, I want to help as much as possible. In essence, I’ll check in along the path rather than just handing you a map and saying good luck! The best way I can do this is by sending regular reminders to you, along with practical suggestions on ways to practice, (here comes the shameless plug) and you will only get those reminders if you
    sign up for the DQM email list.
Photo by Becca Tapert on Unsplash

4. Read everything you can about becoming a better questioner. In the future I will share and update some recommended reading lists with notes and comments on what I find valuable in certain books. For today though, you can start by checking out my favorite book on questioning — A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger.Those who see true improvement are those who dedicate themselves to learning all the nuances of asking better questions by reading the theories and lessons learned by other master questioners. I will offer no shortcut here, so pick up a book and start reading.

5. Get Support from others. If you haven’t already, make sure you join the DQM community to get regular reminders and suggestions from others on ways to grow this important new habit.

I have to admit one last thing before closing this article. Earlier I said it’s like a roadmap to get you from point A to point B…however that’s kind of a lie, so I apologize. You see, there is no ‘finish line’ when it comes to cultivating new skills. There is only added improvement over time. I think of it like golfing. I’ll never be ‘done’ practicing. My game will never be perfect. I will certainly have some days that are better than others. I’ll have frustrating moments along the way. I know that if I stop practicing altogether my fine motor skills and finesse will slip away quickly. So I keep practicing and keep trying to learn from others who are better golfers than I. And to me, that is all worth it because the overall experience is valuable and enjoyable along the way. So it is with becoming a better questioner. A challenging and ongoing pursuit that will only improve as you put more effort into it. So think of this article actually as a golf lesson, not a roadmap.


The Four R’s of Handling Information Overload …

Photo by Gabriel Matula on Unsplash

We are in information overwhelm.

Too much information, too often, from too many sources, on too many topics.

Overflowing inboxes take too much of our time away from tasks that are actually productive.

Let me introduce you to the Three R’s of Handling TMI — Review, Reduce, Restrict. You can skip to the end for the ‘How to’ or stick with me through (dare I say it?) a little more information/rant.

We entrepreneurial types with our ‘sparkly bauble’ ‘next big thing’ ‘fast track to success’ syndrome are the WORST for information overload.

We are either sending it or receiving it — or both.

So many of us are sinking into an ocean of futility, weighed down by chains of desire to learn fast and hope of discovering ‘the secret to success.’

Is this the bright shiny object that will solve all my problems and see me living a laptop lifestyle, earning thousands a week while only working 2 hours a day doing what I love, looking tanned and lean in a white bikini, sipping a cocktail on a beach in the Bahama’s with George Clooney giving me a foot rub? Sigh … I wish …

‘Giving value before you ask people to buy’ information bombards us from all sides …

There is no escape — it’s on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, Tumblr, Reddit, and more ad nausem.

Read this, buy that, get your free download, lead magnets, ‘bonuses’, subscribe NOW, I’m here to help — let’s get you started …

Too much information.

Barely time to read it (90% of free downloads are never opened), you’ll look at it later (sure you will…not).

So many promises —

Thousands of followers by tomorrow, high-end consulting clients, sell a million copies of your book, make a billion on Amazon, earn big bucks speaking from the stage…

You exchange your email address for a little information — and the email campaigns begin.

Daily emails clog your inbox — information overload — seriously, who has time to read this stuff? Bonuses, extras, thank you’s, any excuse…

Then the URGENCY and SCARCITY tactics — closing at midnight tonight, last chance, only three left, don’t miss out, act now, this will never happen again, free discovery call this week only….

Sure… Yeah… Until next week anyway.

All these tactics induce me to do is roll my eyes…

Delete, delete, delete.

Or you unsubscribe only to find that they SOLD your email address to all their mates with similar business models — and now THEY have the greenlight to gently accost you on a way too regular basis.

Don’t get me wrong — if we had a conversation and you asked if I would like to know more (and I said yes) then I do the courtesy of running an eye over whatever you send. I also trust you NOT to take it as permission to add me to an automated emailing sequence. To me, that’s a backward step in our relationship — it would take it from personal to impersonal — is that what you really want?

My gripe is that while sometimes it’s clear that you are subscribing to a weekly or monthly newsletter (and I have no problem with that), the more aggressive marketers don’t warn you that subscribing results in a sales email cluttering your inbox EVERY single day.

It’s not that some of this information isn’t useful — some of it is really valuable and helpful IF you have time to implement it.

And that’s another real issue — too much time taken to sort through too much information, too little time (if ANY!) taken to implement the gems that I do discover.

It’s not them, it’s me …

I subscribed (I couldn’t help it — sparkly ball syndrome, remember?) and this is the result — unproductive time each morning.

So here are the 3 R’s of Handling all this info –

REVIEW — Where is all this information coming from? What do you do with it? Do you read it? Do you save it as research for your own content production? Your answers will direct your actions. Put some email rules in place to push incoming emails into separate files to be reviewed later.

REDUCE — Delete everything that you safely can. Constantly deleting emails from certain sources? — time to unsubscribe. Do you really need all those Facebook notifications? — time to change settings on people and groups you don’t need to see every post from.

RESTRICT — Restrict the time this information costs you on a daily basis. Only allow yourself a pre-determined amount of time to review emails. Having a certain time set aside to deal with them prevents them from intruding on your productive work time.

RESIST — Resist the temptation to subscribe to those bright shiny offers of free information. Don’t undo the good work you have done with the first three R’s. If an offer comes up that is right on point and completely relevant then unsubscribe from something else so you have zero net increase.

Best of success with better handling of the plethora of information and if you have more tips please share them 🙂

This Easy Life Management System Will Make You Happier, Freer, and Twice As Productive

Originally published by Stephen Guise on his personal website.

Here’s the conundrum: We want freedom, but we also want to do things that matter.

Doing what matters requires intention, but intention (i.e., having plans) can sometimes threaten one’s sense of freedom. Also, operating from a default state of freedom makes it difficult to generate intention to do meaningful things. What’s the impetus to decide you will work on that book idea? It doesn’t happen randomly. If you’re lucky, you’ll be inspired to work on important things sometimes, but not often enough to make a difference.

Giving yourself structure is the toughest part of being a self-employed “type B” person. Every part of me resists structuring my day, but I’ve realized that it’s mostly because of how it’s typically done. I can thrive under structure if I create it under my own terms.

So how can one maintain a feeling of complete freedom, yet consistently make progress towards their goals? Mini Habits is one strategy for consistent progress that I’ve talked plenty about, but it’s for habit development. What about areas outside of habit development that require daily intention? Is a to-do list really the best we can do?

Those of us who want the combination of freedom, productivity, and flexibility could benefit greatly from a structured system with which to navigate through life intentionally. It needs to be better than mainstream time management ideas like the to-do list. It should be…

  • Simple
  • Empowering (and never defeating, like when you don’t complete items on your to-do list)
  • Flexible
  • Easy to do
  • Fun
  • Clear
  • Intention-generating

How many systems out there support these requirements? None… until today!

Most systems designed to provide life structure are some combination of rigid, complicated, boring, demanding, and downright obnoxious to maintain. Getting Things Done, for example, is an extremely popular book, and for good reason. I love David Allen’s classic book for its accurate deconstruction of human life, but in practice, it is waaaay too robotic, controlling, and maintenance intensive. I’ve tried to implement it twice, and each time it felt like I spent more time managing the system than actually doing things to improve my life. It’s still a worthwhile read for understanding the different ways we can categorize our life actions.

The following system is different. It’s smarter, streamlined, and completely flexible every day.

Again, this is not a replacement for Mini Habits, but a supplement to them. Having mini habits has changed my life and thousands of others. They make progress and habit formation simple, fun, and doable. Life is mostly made or broken by our habits, but there still exists non-habitual factors that heed consideration. After much contemplation and experimenting, I have discovered the following solution for these aspects of life that works for me AND integrates with my current mini habits. Here’s what it looks like.

There are two components to this system — a big calendar and a large dry erase board.

The calendar serves as my mini habits progress tracker. I currently have two mini habits: read 2 pages in a book per day and meditate one minute per day. When I complete them, I write a check mark f0r that day. You’ll notice that I also have grades for each day, and I’ll explain that later.

The dry erase board handles everything besides my mini habits from one-time things like ebaying my microphone to frequently repeated actions like exercising or working on my video course to someday/maybe ideas like taking a Greece cruise. My board has four simple lists on it.

  1. Frequent tasks: The first list contains valuable things I would benefit from doing frequently (but that are not mandatory to do every day). Examples: play basketball, do HIIT training, lift weights, work on my video course, find a social event, clean, respond to emails, etc.
  2. NOW tasks: The second list contains one-time tasks I WILL do sometime today (these are not time-specific like meetings and appointments, as that’s what I use my phone calendar for). Examples: Mail a package, get my passport photo taken, call someone, etc.
  3. Soon tasks: The third list contains things I plan to do soon (within the next month), but not necessarily immediately. Examples: Revamp my websites, mail my new passport application, etc.
  4. Someday/Maybe: The final list is my someday/maybe list, which lists things I’d like to do sometime in the next 5 years. Examples: Greece cruise, visit various countries (China, South Korea, New Zealand, etc.), start a Group, etc.

Rules: What I Require Myself to Do Each Day

  1. I must do my two mini habits every day. They’re small enough and easy enough to knock out even if I’m tired and have limited time.
  2. On the dry erase board every morning, I will choose two tasks from the far left list (frequent or “core” tasks) to complete that day. On any day, I can decide to work on a “Near Future” task or “Someday/Maybe” task in lieu of or in addition to my core tasks. I may also have one-time NOW tasks that I’ll do as necessary, and they don’t count towards my two tasks. A typical day’s pair of tasks will be some form of exercise and some form of computer work, but I can switch it up however I please. This way, the system accommodates my typical goals, but gives me freedom to pivot at any time without feeling like I’m doing something wrong. It’s completely flexible.
  3. IMPORTANT: I am allowed to skip the dry erase board tasks on any day for any reason. I call this a “treat yo self” day. You can see in the photo that I took two days off already because I was at a casino with a friend. Unlimited days off is not a weakness, but a strength. I don’t want every day to be equally productive, because life isn’t (and shouldn’t be) that rigid and predictable. I don’t want a set number of “rest days,” because I might work for 200 days in a row and then take a month long vacation (something I’ve done before). Life is naturally dynamic unless you or someone else (like your workplace) artificially constricts it.
  4. Before bedtime, I grade myself on how I lived the day.

It’s designed this way for the following reasons:

  • Setting intention: each morning begins by being intentional about today’s goals. Without that, I often found myself wasting massive amounts of time neither working or playing just because I never decided what exactly to do. I had dozens of ideas of what to do, but I felt helpless to decide which ones to do today. Moving that decision out of my head and onto a whiteboard makes it much easier to decide.
  • Direction: The four lists and the mini habits combined show me the general direction I’m headed. Direction is more important than individual tasks because it ultimately determines where you go. Anyone can have a single great day or do a single great thing, but a great life can only be made by doing great things consistently. Consistency is direction. Think of each day as a step. Are your steps lined up in a single direction, or are you walking in circles?
  • Fun: I call this board my command center, and it’s fun for me to feel like the captain in control over my life. This board gives me the information I need in the form of tasks I want to do (in every relevant timeframe), and it then gives me the power to choose!
  • Daily choice: The problem with most goals or systems is that they turn you into a slave. Slavery is defined by lack of choice, and if you say, decide to exercise Monday-Friday at 5:30 PM every day, you’re effectively removing your ability to choose what you do. This is actually a positive thing when it comes to habit development, but it will exhaust you if you do it in too many areas at once. Thus, I have a basket of ideas I can choose from each day, and I never feel enslaved because I make that choice each day. The decision is made fresh each day, not a stale old burden from a New Year’s Resolution.
  • Sense of control: If you put this all together, you will get a strong feeling of control over your life. Yes, bad things will still happen. Yes, you’ll fail sometimes. But for the most part, you’re a general examining the battlefield of life every day and deciding your next move. When you combine a reliable infrastructure with the freedom to maneuver as needed, you get the ultimate feeling of control and power.
  • Imagining the process: The magic of choosing your tasks in the morning is that you immediately begin imagining the process of how they will be completed. For example, today I chose to write the newsletter, do HIIT training, plus prepare and mail two items at the post office. Because I knew everything I wanted to do, I logistically determined how I could get everything completed. Without knowing your full intentions for the day, you won’t manage your time and energy effectively.

This system is comprehensive while being as simple as possible, as flexible as possible, as easy to maintain as possible, and as fun as possible.

The secret sauce to this system that makes it awesome? It’s totally optional. On any and every day, I will permit myself to take a “treat yo self” day (“treat yo self” is a phrase from Parks and Recreation). This means I can do whatever I want and ignore the board (I still have to do my mini habits though).

You might wonder if this is a problem. What if I take off 20 days in a row? That’s unlikely to happen, but if it does, it’s probably because I’m busy doing something awesome like traveling. When I’m home and rested, I want to do productive things. I enjoy having this flexible structure in place to help me live a satisfying day of my choosing.

Freedom is imperative to my success with this system. I’d rebel otherwise. I don’t want to live a controlled and maintenance-heavy life, even if it’s a brilliant system like Getting Things Done. I want to be able to have random and fun rest days, not in an arbitrary amount like once per week, but as needed or wanted.

Built-in freedom makes me love and respect this system. What other life management system out there is even slightly lovable? They’re all about doing work and being more efficient with your time, even if it’s brutal to your energy levels and morale. The results from such systems can be nice at first, but you will learn to dread their iron grip on your life and that means they’re not going to last.

Freedom is especially necessary for this system because the tasks within it are larger than a mini habit. The available actions are generally 10 minutes or longer (see them in parenthesis in the picture below). That’s still pretty easy, but it’s not as easy as a mini habit. Simply knowing that I don’t have to do these tasks every day and that I can take a break at any time is empowering and makes them completely non-threatening.

What if your boss let you take as many vacation days as you wanted? You might take off quite a few days, sure, but wouldn’t it also make you want to be really productive at work because your boss is awesome? That’s what this feels like. You are that awesome boss!

There’s one last thing I thought was missing. I needed a way to gauge my performance. With Mini Habits, it’s easy — if you see the check mark, you’re doing great. But how would I evaluate my whiteboard actions? If I did nothing one day even though it wasn’t a planned “treat yo self” day, how would I make note of that?

Tracking your actions is important. It’s possibly the best and most reliable motivator because it provides self-accountability and encouragement in one easy step. I thought about assigning each task a point value, and then trying to earn, say, 20 points per day. It was too cookie cutter. How could I evaluate setting up a social event vs. doing an intense workout? They’re completely different and equally valuable. In addition, the value of a task can fluctuate depending on your circumstances. Typically, I would value exercise over say, finding a social event to attend. But if I’ve been a hermit lately, it might be more valuable that day to find a social event. I’d also have to figure out a point value for every single task I created for the board, and that would get old really fast. These are the little decisions that make or break life management systems. If I get annoyed, I quit, and I know I’m not alone in that.

I realized that I couldn’t rate my performance using a rigid score method. Life is too dynamic for that. Instead, I realized that it would be incredibly easy and intuitive to simply give myself a grade for the day. From F to A+, how did I do? The human brain can take many factors into account and instantly understand their meaning. Any mathematical or point model I came up with wouldn’t even be able to calculate how a headache or poor night of sleep might affect one’s ability to perform. But I can easily think, “I slept poorly but still accomplished XYZ… I say B+!” or, “I did get some work done, but with all that time and energy, I know I could have done better. I give myself a C today.”

Every night, I evaluate the day, considering everything. I know when I’ve screwed up, I know when I’ve crushed it, and I know when I’m somewhere in between. A subjective grade means it’s on the honor system, which is perfect because the greatest success is living the way you want to live. If I can take an honest look at my day and think, “I’m happy with how I spent my time and energy today,” then I’m doing well. Otherwise, I can give myself a lower grade and I’ll know exactly why and how to top it.

I call this The Mini Flex System because it combines Mini Habits with flexible task management.

If you wake up in the morning and feel directionless (or come home from work and feel directionless), try The Mini Flex System.

If you’re tired of stale goals, time management systems, and to-do lists, try The Mini Flex System.

If you’ve had success with Mini Habits and wonder what’s the next step, try The Mini Flex System.

Reclaim your freedom and be more productive at the same time. It can be done!

About the Author

Stephen Guise is the author of three books, including the worldwide bestseller, Mini Habits, which is available in 17 languages. You can learn more about him here.

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Five things you can do when you feel uninspired

Today I started a challenge to produce something every day for 30 days — no matter how big or small: it could be an article, a blog post, a short Instagram story or even something of a physical nature like a little piece of art (chocolate cakes don’t count!).

While I’m normally overflowing with ideas thanks to my creative brain, I was feeling incredibly uninspired this morning.

Digging through my memories of moments like this in the past, there are things which have always gotten me back on the ‘creative bandwagon’.

Here are my 5 tips:

  1. Go for a walk. Walking has been my salvation this year. In July this year I went on a walkabout and walked a little over 250 km from the United States to Vancouver Island in Canada (I also took a ferry obviously, doh). This walk quite literally changed my life and I have never felt so much in ‘creative flow’. Walking is like a meditation on some levels and sometimes I feel like moving your body with the stimulation of the changing environment around you is all you need to get back into flow. I’m not saying you have to start hiking for days, but sometimes a little walk in the park gets your creative juices back into flow just as well. I try to get out of the house every morning with a coffee in my keep cup! Even if it’s just a walk around the block, I usually end up coming back to the house with a new business idea.
  2. Watch a TED Talk. As humans we are so prone to look for comfort and it’s easy to flick on a mindless TV show when you’re feeling bored. But I believe rarely have you ever felt the sudden urge to jump off the couch when binging on the latest season of Game of Thrones? Instead, swap Netflix with TED and get inspired by the one of the 1000s of talks on topics about science, humanity, self-development and many more.
  3. Music, music, music. Crank up the volume on your headphones or turn up your sound system at home and most importantly be shameless — whatever works for you — 80s, Grease, Justin Bieber or Metallica, who cares if it gets you back in the mood? For me it’s trashy pop and I’m not ashamed (okay a little bit). Music can be like swallowing a happy pill and it works really well for me when I feel down, too. Half the time I end up dancing and singing around the house, and I forget I didn’t feel a million dollars a few minutes ago. (By the way this is part of my daily routine.)
  4. Do some… drumroll… cleaning. This one’s an odd one. I’m not sure this works for everyone — please let me know in the comments if you can relate to it. I know it sounds super boring but I’m pretty sure all of us have experienced this effect at some stage (maybe not with cleaning but with something else). You start doing one little thing and once you’ve completed that, all of a sudden you notice your motivation rising and next thing you know you’re pulling stuff from your shelves and giving the house a spring clean. Sound familiar? Read the do-something article if you’re keen to understand why it works.
  5. Make someone a present. This shifts your attention away from yourself (and your creative void) and onto someone else instead. Think about a little note you could leave for your friend/partner/mother or whoever to brighten up their day. If they’re not close to you, send them a little card in the mail or if you’re bold, order flowers for them. Even sending them a little whatsapp voice message is also a good place to start.
    And hey — who doesn’t like making other people happy?

— — — —

I’m keen to hear what works for you. Share how you stay inspired in the comments!

Follow me on instagram if you want to stay on track with my 30-day challenge . I actually only came up with that idea when I wrote this article, so technically I lied above. I’m sorry. Have an inspiring day anyhow. Byeeeee.

What my brain feels like when I’m inspired.

Change your environment, change your mindset

Wayne Dunkley (Senior Frontend Developer)

Up until about two months ago my daily working environment was an immaculately laid out desk, minimal, clean and as distraction free as possible. It was a simple but elegant setup consisting of my Mac, two 25in HD monitors, wireless keyboard, wireless mouse, noise cancelling headphones and my dancing baby Groot desk mascot. It was my space when I needed to get some serious work done I could get in the zone, focus and work. It was a clutter free environment which promoted as little distractions as possible.

Now before I go any further, this isn’t one of those spectacular online stories where I tell you I am now sitting on a beach with the whitest sand your eyes have ever seen, looking out at a glistening ocean with lapping waves washing the shore. Unfortunately, this couldn’t be any further from the truth. But the question is, why am I not writing this article from the comfort of my minimalistic sanctuary?

A couple of months ago, I was sat at my desk working on a particularly complex problem. I had been sat there all morning, mapping out possible approaches, testing solutions and consulting with peers. The more I worked on the issue, the more complex it appeared to become. Normally when this happens, I would get up from my desk, close my laptop and take a walk around the park opposite our office. I’m a firm believer that a clear mind creates opportunities for fresh ideas to flourish. This day was a particularly stunning one, as most are here in Sydney, clear blue skies with a warm sun beating down. In the time that it had taken to complete a lap of the park I had cleared my mind of all previous approaches and was already thinking of different angles to tackle the issue. As I started to make my way back to the office I started thinking, how is it 15 minute walk could solve a problem which I had been mulling over the entire morning. So I took a moment and sat down on the grass over looking the city skyline.

After a while I realised, it wasn’t my inability to problem solve or strategise approaches that had prevented me from coming up with an answer. It was my surroundings. The environment that I had become so accustom to as my place to work was the one thing that was blocking my creative thinking. By changing my environment and the things around me I was opening my mind up to take in new information and look at issues from new perspectives. That afternoon I went back to my desk, unplugged my laptop from my monitors and went and sat in the park where my surroundings were as open as I could possibly get. I can honestly say, that was one of the most productive afternoons I had had in months. I had solved my original issue and had done so with a solution that was so far from all that I had previously tried.

Since that day I rarely find myself sat at my desk and never plugged into any of my monitors. Unfortunately, I don’t sit out in the sun all day either. Being that disconnected from the rest of my team is not going to help anyone, besides I think my boss would ultimately start wondering where I was all day. But what I do is find new environments to work. Luckily at Mentally Friendly this is something that is possible, we have multiple themed spaces including The Forest Room, Spy Room and The Library to name a few, each with there own feel and styles. This allows me to change the space around me when I need it.

Dreamer Room at Mentally Friendly

Changing the environment around me allows me to change my mindset, clear my head or open up my mind to find new ways to tackle an different problems. Although I am sure that sitting on a paradise beach with a laptop and a cocktail would be an absolute dream office. It just goes to show that you don’t need to go far to achieve the same affect and can be done by simply walking into the next room.

This piece was written by Wayne Dunkley, our Sydney based Senior Frontend Developer.

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