How to be productive

For me the pattern is now perfectly clear: the later I come at the task, the more time I’ll spend dancing around it before beginning in earnest. If I can make contact at an earlier hour, the urge to dance away from it is diminished, because I only have so many dance moves, and I’ll run out long before lunchtime.

~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2021/12/9-things-i-learned-about-productivity-this-year/

About once per year I trot out a, HOLY CRAP!

This entire article is jammed full of insights, only one of which did I quote above. I’d say that I have learned those same things. But absolutely I have not learned them in a single year. Where’s my time machine? I need to get this to my 16-year-old self.

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A tiny commitment

To suddenly “go mindful” and try to be present all the time is about as easy as running a marathon when you’ve never even run around the block. Since most of us are not present the vast majority of the time, occasional stabs at “being in the moment” are quickly overrun by the colossal momentum of a lifetime of being lost in thought.

~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2010/03/how-to-make-mindfulness-a-habit- with-only-a-tiny-commitment/

There’s much worth reading on David Cain’s Raptitude website. For example, his How to walk across a parking lot, is one of the greatest things I’ve ever read. But the piece I’ve quoted from above stands out as a terrific “how to…” for working on mindfulness.

I’ve been actively working on first self-awareness, then self-assesment and finally mindfulness, for many years. (And writing about my journey as I’ve done so.) But mindfulness is still something that comes and goes for me.

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Reaching the end isn’t the point

Much better is to rebuild the skill entirely with a different approach, one that directly addresses your perennial snags. Instead of slowly getting better at your familiar, limited way, you embrace the awkwardness of learning an unfamiliar but stronger method, as though you’ve never done the thing before at all.

~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2021/10/how-to-level-up-instead-of-plugging-away/

In the article Cain mentions spending as much as 10 minutes in reading one page as part of his larger anecdote from which he’s drawing this lesson. Sometimes it takes me a long time to find enough tranquility in my mind just to feel ready to read. I always have so many thing on the to-do and should-do lists. By the time I get enough of the urgent items beat back into the shadows, often, another days has passed with too little reading. I should do something about that…

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This is the last time

There was, or will be, a last time for everything you do, from climbing a tree to changing a diaper, and living with a practiced awareness of that fact can make even the most routine day feel like it’s bursting with blessings. Of all the lasting takeaways from my periodic dives into Stoicism, this is the one that has enhanced my life the most.

~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2021/09/the-last-time-always-happens-now/

This is by far the most important thing I’ve learned in my several decades. I’ve written about this previously, try my “perspective” tag for some tastes, but this item bears endless repeating. Do it as if it is the last time. Think of it, in the moment, as if it is the last time. And for a bonus multiplier—but don’t do this too often or you get disappointed too—think about that thing you’re about to do, the same way. Tomorrow, when I ____ , that will be the last time I get to _____ .

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Travel lightly

What if, instead, we could be flexible and travel through life lightly, flowing with changes?

~ David Cain from, https://zenhabits.net/flexible-travel/

You should interpret that sentence both in the physically traveling without too much physical stuff, and in the sense of traveling without too much mental baggage.

Traveling lightly—both without physical stuff and without mental baggage—will serve you well. Over the years, I’ve tried to explain my thinking around these points via blog posts: One series on physical practicalities and tips is, Travel Gear. And, another series about the mindset of traveling is called, Parkour Travel.

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Where to start

I had a nice dinner conversation the other day wherein someone asked me to send them more information about Stoicism. I went looking for the perfect blog post to share, and couldn’t find one. So this is now it. ;)

There’s like a thousand things I could share. Don’t get snowed under by this stuff; Don’t try to read/do all of this…

The book I suggest starting with is The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday. This is a good book to just pick up each morning, spend 2 minutes reading, and move on.

If you want to read something which specifically explains Stoicism, I recommend A Guide to the Good Life: The ancient art of Stoic joy by W Irvine. This is an easy read that covers what the ancient Stoics wrote, and how their philosophy can be adapted to modern times.

There’s a good podcast interview with Irvine on a podcast called Philosophy Bites. It’s short episodes (~half hour) where the host and a guest talk about one topic in Philosophy. (There are ~500 episodes.) Irvine’s episode is a great introduction to what is Stoicism.

http://philosophybites.com/2015/06/william-b-irvine-on-living-stoically.html

If you want to read blog posts, my site has a tag for Stoicism. The posts are going to be widely varied, and have lots of links to other things, (as well as all my posts being tagged to lead to other things within my blog.)

You can also dive into some people who sometimes write explicitly about Stoicism but whose work is just generally good to read. Here are links to the corresponding tags on my web site. You can skim/scroll/page through my blog posts to find an interesting place to jump into these other spaces…

David Cain writes a web site, Raptitude.

Leo Babauta writes a web site, Zen Habits.

Enjoy!

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Specific

In fact, some of the best advice comes in the form of clichés. Be yourself. Seize the day. Fake it till you make it. Despite how trite these phrases sound now, they are still deep, paradigm-shifting insights about being human. They’ve undoubtedly changed countless lives, which is how they became trite. Precisely because these principles have been discovered and expressed many times, in many contexts, they’ve become too general and too familiar to revolutionize how someone does something.

~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2021/11/advice-gets-good-when-it-gets-specific/

Everyone knows by now that the ‘S’ in SMART goals stands for “specific.” I completely agree with Cain. My experience has been that magic happens if I can—when appropriate, when asked—give both the generic cliché and a specific example. For example, “Fake it ’til you make it. People can detect confidence. So work to overcome your nervousness and self-doubt by keeping your communication as simple as possible. Simplify until you have clear, simple statements and clear, simple requests.”

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The TV in the other room

It may surprise you that the words keep coming even if you’re not entertaining them, just as a TV program keeps showing itself to an empty room. You can always hear it carrying on, but it’s up to you whether to go in and sit on the couch.

~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2021/07/how-to-get-out-of-your-own-head/

Funny, but I don’t ever recall the TV being on in the other room. I certainly have spent a lot of time—that’s a vast understatement—directly sat before the TV. But somewhere somehow somewhen I must have developed the habit of turning it off when I left the room. Which strikes me as very odd.

No great epiphany here. Just: That strikes me as very odd.

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Like waves crashing on the beach

It isn’t clear why you’ve been sent back. Maybe it was a cosmic accounting error, or a boon from a playful God. All you know is that you’re here again, walking the earth, having been inexplicably returned to the temporary and mysterious state of Being Alive.

~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2021/06/how-to-remember-youre-alive/

But first, pardon me while I get a song stuck in your head… like, all-day stuck.

She could hear the cars roll by
Out on 441
Like waves crashin’ on the beach
And for one desperate moment there
He crept back in her memory
God it’s so painful
Something that’s so close
And still so far out of reach

~ Tom Petty, but you knew that

Tom Petty died in 2017—I hope that wasn’t a spoiler. It seems, based on my quick search, that his last public performance included this as the last song he performed. omg the feels. Stop, go watch that entire 7-minute video. If that doesn’t move you…

There’s a moment late in the video where the jumbo-screen behind them says, “without YOU, there’d be no US” — or something close to that second part, it’s obscured. I think that points to something exceptional about TPatHB. Forty years, and grateful for the experience of that specific night.

Now, reread the pull-quote and then read Cain’s suggested practice.

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Just one good idea

I believe the standard how-to book contains too much new stuff for a human brain to take on board once, or at least it does for my brain. Implementing a single habit – flossing before bed, for example – is something most people can do if they’re really focusing on it, but even that is hard. Converting your workday into the full-bore Pomodoro system, or (God help you) the GTD system, represents a dozen or more habits that all have to come online more or less at the same time.

~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2021/06/how-to-get-things-done-when-you-have-trouble-getting-things-done/

This is an unusual post from Cain. It is very much nuts-and-bolts material—ending in a pitch for a book of his own—rather than his usual philosophical pontifications. To his observation quoted above I’d like to add the following: If I am able to find just one good idea in a book which I can implement, then I get very excited.

For example, one can read many books and come away with new ideas. (Man’s Search for Meaning, or Leaves of Grass, spring to mind as examples.) But the vast majority of books do not contain actionable things that can be implemented to make a difference in your life. An idea like, “be the change you want to see in the world,” is sublime. But how—be specific in your thinking here—do I do that? There are many examples: “Practice gratitude.” How, exactly? And compare that to the same idea, in actionable form: “Begin each day by writing down three things for which you are grateful.”

I’m not trying to denigrate great ideas. I’m trying to explain my sheer delight when I do find a great idea which is readily attemptable. Many of those actionable ideas still fall by the wayside, but a few of them have really stuck and served me well.

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