10 hacks to stop busyness

Keeping oneself busy is probably the most important value of our time. Busyness surpasses religion, materialism, individualism, and even social media presence. It seems that being busy, busyness (business), gives us respectable status and signals effectiveness.

For many years, I also fooled myself to be stressed out about my output until I realized that I just simply didn’t have to be busy.

Look, I know the statement above might seem like another cheap woo-woo-NLP mind trick, but refusing to be busy really worked for me without having to compromise my productivity even the tiniest fraction. As a matter of fact, I got more productive and content as the busyness stopped.

If you also want to stop being busy, you might want to give the 10 points below a try.

1. Breathe

As basic as it gets, breathing is the only real urgent and on going process in our lives. In all its urgency, it can also relieve the sensation of urgency.

While simple, intuitive and shallow breathing alone will take you most likely pretty far, mastering how to breathe right will gain you control over the stress levels and sense of urgency, no matter what the situation is.

All in all, articles and books about breathing could easily stock a library, but keeping it simple, in the event of excess stimuli or if you just want to calm down, inhale deep, but in about half (eg. 4 sec) the time you exhale (about 8 sec).

2. Clear to-do from waste

Look at your to-do list (granted, you keep a list of to-do’s in the first place!) and cross out all of those tasks that are not backed by your values. There are no universally right values, so if, for example, vanity happens to be one, you need to serve that value and act accordingly.

3. Set clear objectives for working

Set clear goals for the day that are derived from what you have planned for the entire week and/or month rolling down from 3 month, yearly plans, and longer term plans. Not only will a plan help you get things done, but plans will also take you where you want to go. Clarity over to-do increases locus of control and let’s you feel less busy.

4. Get sh*t done. Don’t procrastinate.

Well planned if half done -but remember, only half! As planning helps so much in all the different ways, fulfillment comes from actually completing something. No excuses, just start delivering and manage your task backlog wisely. Only very seldom makes it sense to procrastinate, so don’t make lousy excuses for yourself.

Having already crossed out all unnecessary task right from the top and having your hands on the actual to-do, refrain from excess quality and attack the tricky tasks with zeal.

At the end of the day, look at all the things you have done, appreciate your achievements, and start priming yourself for yet another rear-end-kicking day ahead. Sense of progress and achievement also boosts locus of control.

5. Guard your time. Be selfish if necessary.

Time is our most important asset. Even the almost almighty money cannot touch it, so treat it accordingly. Life is too short for garbage entertainment, bad books or lousy music. The only one to keep yourself from being exploited is you. Less is more.

6. Get rid of clutter

Clean table tops, roomy closets, organized cabinets, and simple wardrobe will  make your day to day life easier in so many ways. While you don’t have to spend so much time getting with and by indifferent stuff, less clutter around also spares your decision making capacity for the important stuff.

While aiming at minimalism, you’ll find a lot less craving for sugar too. This is about reaching clarity over a busy mental landscape.

7. Stay off sugar

Sugar is probably one of the most addictive but also lethal substances. Despite its dangers, we are bathed in sugar partially to sooth our stressed out, depleted ego.

Yes, sugar apparently restores a depleted ego, but as the sugar rush ends, you’ll find yourself worse off than before topping up your glucose levels. In desperate need of sugar, opt for fruit as there is also fiber to level the rush.

8. Meditate

This article alone packs a whopping 76 scientific benefits of meditation, so it might be a little daring to dismiss the potential of meditation.

Some might think meditation requires dissolved bones to reach out-of-this-world zen-master yoga poses and ability to levitate, but it’s nothing like that. Again; breathe. Be mindful. This is the part where you don’t have to perform! Allow also negative feelings to emerge. Zen over haste.

9. Sleep

Sleep deprivation will take you to your final rest early. Life is also quite simply a bore when you are tired as sleep deprivation reduces so many aspects of your physical and mental health.

Eating too late, too much and too heavy/sugary will destroy your sleep. In addition to bad eating habits, consumption of alcohol in the evening, even by modest quantities also prevents you from reaching the deeper phases of sleep.

In order to facilitate good sleep, go to bed early and leave all digital devices out from your bedroom – or at least vicinity of the bed. Really, stay off that blue light! Internet will wait for you until the morning.

10. Smile

Let go of that frown on your face, replace it with a smile and see how everything changes, not only inside you but also around you.

On a universal scale, as you will be most likely totally forgotten in 100 years time, you might as well relieve yourself from all the pressure that it was all about you. Don’t take life so personally. Just enjoy this short period of insignificance and enrich everyone crossing your path. We are already there.

Do you think I missed something essential?

If not, goodbye busyness. Hasta nunca.

Red Hammer

You have probably come across the Red Hammer test where you are presented a set of mathematical problems one after another, with increasing level of difficulty. After the set of problems, you are being asked to think about the first color and tool that comes to your mind: “red” and “hammer” will come out from 98% of us. Are we really that predictable? What’s happening here?

Brief explanation to the typical response above is that firstly, red and hammer the paradigmatic options – the ideal or standards in their own categories. Secondly your conscious mind just ran out of steam in the working memory department and allowed the automated part of your mind take over. This exhaustion of the conscious mind is called ego depletion or maybe at least partly more describingly decision fatigue.

THE TWO PARTS OF OUR MIND

I bet many of us reflect on our taken actions and reactions, especially when we got ourselves in some kind of a conflict with our surroundings. Be it a that edgy email that just absolutely had to be sent before leaving work or the quarrel with your partner about where to have dinner on a trip, there are plenty of typical situations we tend to fall into time and again. Personally, it just strikes me occasionally, how impulsive my reactions sometimes are – the steady foundation rock I was supposed to be, why am I so unpredictable to myself?

As briefly mentioned above already, our minds can be divided into two parts – or systems, as Daniel Kahneman in Thinking, fast and slow calls them. There is the automated part of our mind, System 1, that is like the subconscious autopilot. This part of our mind is activated with the most trivial tasks, like brushing our teeth or even riding a bicycle. The System 2 on the other hand, is in charge of actions that for some reason require more focusing, conscious decisions, or logical thinking, like comparing over different insurance options or preparing a budget for the next year (-or at least it should be in charge!). Our genes, personal characteristics and experiences dictate pretty much when to use either of the two systems.

OUR MIND IS BORN LAZY

All in all, we like to stay on autopilot whenever possible and save working memory to the most critical and mentally demanding situations to better secure our survival. This means that we favor by default everything we are familiar with; the surroundings, the people, the food etc. The implications of this reach far and wide.

Now, I am not saying this is right and I don’t want to give excuses for intolerance, but by our nature we are less inclined to accept strangers within our society. The more prejudice you are, the more unfamiliar people will stress your conscious mind and when your ego is finally depleted, frustration and even anger will emerge. For those who have difficulties understanding this and feel a bit of “well, that’s not me” self righteous, let me ask you if you ever had that feeling during a stressful work day that you just wanted to exclude or not engage with one of your colleagues not speaking your native language in your lunch company?

THE MARSMALLOW TEST AND SELF CONTROL

Ego depletion is obviously very closely related to self control, self discipline and further beyond our ability to do work that requires long term commitment. Now, you probably have heard about the Marshmallow Test (check our this hilarious video on kids participating this test!!) and how a simple behavioral characteristic observed in the test can determine with great probability how a person will do in school, how they will score in tests measuring intelligence and overall success later in their life. This is probably why in the realm of defining factors of personal success, conscientiousness is being considered the single most important factor of the Big 5 – the personal traits that define your success in life.

While the mechanics of self control seem to be fairly multi-faceted and complicated, in order to keep this blog within reasonable scope, let us settle just listing some things that have got to do with how some people just seem to be able to for example succeed on a diet challenge better than the most of us. These characteristics are strong internal locus of control (~ I am the master of my own fate), persistency, positively reinforcing experiences, realistic self-reflection, and the ability to set realistic goals.

WATCH OUT FOR CONSCIOUS BIASES!

With the “Red Hammer” test my immediate reaction right after amazement was that if it is so easy to predict my mind, it must be as easy to take advantage of it for example in the context of impulsive buying behavior. While buying a new shirt or a lipstick will not probably drive you into personal bankruptcy, you have to be more careful with our mental exhaustion with bigger decisions like buying a flat or a car – sometimes we tend to forget and be blind to the scale of things, you know.

I shouldn’t be probably saying this, because I admit taking advantage of ego depletion among other psychological factors buying a cars or a motorcycles and watch out for them as a seller. Conducting business like this is not about grace or fair play and especially with more significant things, I prefer not to do business with the people I know.

GOOD USES FOR YOUR AUTOPILOT

Macolm Gladwell explains in his book Blink, how our unconscious mind can be useful in many situations, like certain level of decision making -even in some more complicated situations. Apparently there is a lot of computing that takes place behind closed doors to our conscious mind and sometimes without being able to give specific arguments, we just know things. The trick is obviously when to trust our instinct and when to it might be subjected to some sort of evolutionary biases – like consistency and commitment or liking bias.

Some time ago, when Roger Federer was still playing tennis, there were these discussions why he had started to lose games, even if by all measurable numbers he was supposed to be still on his prime. One of the speculated reasons for his less than optimal performance was that maybe he had gotten too conscious over his game. -What if I fail to throw the ball high enough and I serve an embarrassing double fault? For an athlete, competition is not the time for self reflection or self doubt, it’s ideally the time to just be let your will to win carry you unconsciously in a state of flow to do exactly the same thing you have carefully practiced over a million times.

Also, what can be a bit counter intuitive, an exhausted and clustered, foggy mind can be good for creating new ideas. In our mind there is a certain order in the world, but when we get tired, the relations between different things become weaker and there’s  a possibility for innovation with new of ideas and solutions.

FINALLY, HOW TO AVOID OR CONTROL EGO DEPLETION?

In the end ego depletion and self control is like a muscle. It get’s tired when you put enough strain on it. While it is probably possible also to build strength in avoiding ego depletion, in a sort run it is easier to focus on using your limited mental resources right. Below you can find some of my top tips:

  • Get to know yourself. There are many personality tests out there to get you started on an important journey.
  • Try to make the most demanding tasks when your spirit is high and you have most of your mental capacity available. Early birds use your morning for the most demanding decisions and night owls respectively the latter phases of the day.
  • Learn how to breathe right and control your breath in stressful situations
  • Eat right and keep your blood sugar steady throughout the day.
  • Take time to recover from stress – a walk in a forest in uneven surfaces typically works well for instance. It’s been scientifically proven that even a walk in a park helps to reduce stress!
  • Meditate on frequent basis -for me also running (alone, without music or other distraction) counts for meditation
  • Secure good quality sleep
  • Don’t get stuck pondering endlessly on all different options of a decision. Unless it’s better to procrastinate, follow your instinct to make a decision, take the first step, and don’t look back.

Do you think there is something essential missing from the list above? Minimalism maybe?

Performance from compassion

Compassion and performance might be a pair of words that in the history of corporate world by intuition, do not seem have shared a correlation until the very recent times. However, for example with the results from Google’s massive 5-year project Aristotle, trying to find the makings of a perfect team, the most common perceptions of how to reach top performance have gain new insight.

Despite all assumptions and beliefs it seems that it’s not about the right mix of people or creating internal competition among peers or groups etc. It’s about establishing a good social connection between people. It’s about compassion.

While Google might have hit the headlines with their discoveries to attract even the attention of the wider audience, in fact similar findings around the positive impact of compassion have been discussed in the field of work psychology increasingly throughout at least the last year or so. Google just went a little further to talk about psychological safety, but at least in my books, essentially they all tell us the same story.

COMPASSION AND EMPATHY

So what is compassion after all and what has empathy got to do with it? Obviously, the two previously mentioned are closely connected, but the main difference is that while empathy refers to the ability to feel the emotions of another person and mentally walk a mile in their shoes, compassion (“to suffer together”) makes you understand the suffering of others and gets you motivated to help relieve that suffering. Naturally compassion drills down into many sub-categories. If you are interested in those, have a look at Paul Ekman’s Taxonomy of compassion.

WHY DO YOU NEED COMPASSION? IT’S JUST BUSINESS, RIGHT?

Firstly, no, it’s never just business and it’s not just the issues that have conflicts. It’s the real people that have to deal with each other and it is at most of the times very personal. Remember, you cannot argue about facts and those are not personal. Opinions and interests on their behalf can be subjected to argument and they are always personal. In a healthy environment you are allowed to have arguments and even conflicts, but you should never lose the feeling of mutual respect and trust.

I guess you can intentionally find logical answers to explain just about anything, but thinking about it, putting emphasis on compassion at work makes sense. In a safe environment, there is simply less energy being consumed in safeguarding yourself from your colleagues and thereby more energy left to deal with your actual tasks.

Additionally, in a healthy compassionate environment one can feel safer to venture out trying new things without having to fear failure to death. All in all, building a “fail fast” culture is one of the most desired states for a modern team.

Furthermore as one of the most important aspect related to the importance of compassion and psychological safety, I discussed ego depletion in one of my previous blogs Red Hammer. In short it’s a big factor in what ever we do and I recommend every curious mind to get familiar with that topic.

GETTING IN SYNC FOR BETTER RESULTS

All in all, I was pretty amazed to find out about some results of an experiment in this brilliant Finnish science podcast, how a pair of strangers performed a task more efficiently together after they had been swinging together just a couple of minutes in sync.

When you look at team sports, you can find a lot of training and preparation methods using this angle, be it the synchronized warm up drills, coordination training or getting mentally prepared for competition. Take a look at this Jordan commercial, and especially towards the end of it to see what I am talking about.

You can obviously get in sync in a lot of ways. Even if it would be fun and kind of amusingly inappropriate to sing a song together in the beginning of a team meeting, also a short tour de table on something personal appears to do the same trick. Don’t force it though as not everyone is willing to speak about their personal things at work.

TRUST

You have to be able to trust others to achieve your goals better
You have to be able to trust others to achieve your goals better

Of course, you need to establish trust first to be able to share things about your private life with your colleagues. It also helps to have at least some common experiences outside work to lower barriers between people. Gathering around a shared hobby would be one of the most ideal activities to start building the required relationships for an open and trusting environment.

With virtual teams becoming more and more common, it’s necessary to put higher emphasis on building trust within the team. Having the team meet physically at least once in the early stages of forming a team is essential to lay a foundation for those meaningful bonds and deeper relationships.

Now, what are you waiting for? Get compassionate immediately and start performing better!

Getting this out of my system: Digitalization

Yes, I am reluctant to write about this one. However, not by lack of gravitation towards the topic, but simply because I think there is enough talking already and not enough concrete action.

About 99% of all articles and blogs discussing internal digitalization of a company seem to revolve around the same topics; top level engagement, culture change, demolish barriers and silos, lean, people centric IT etc. Some put more emphasis on one thing, some in other.

With than being said, if there is something I would personally need to highlight, is that despite the tech klang in the exercise, digitalization is essentially about the people and the culture. Some of you might disagree with me, but it is these previously mentioned two that make the digitalization initiatives the highest challenge.

Whilst the private sector have their own set of problems (in most cases related to their legacy one way or another), In public sector on their behalf, institutions are gridlocked with the lack of options how to make their labor adapt to the new demands. A bit of competition wouldn’t hurt either even if I am not a 100% privatization evangelist.

Trying to escape the sometimes depressive day-to-day questions of digitalization, let us take this topic to a few steps higher. Directly speaking, to me personally, digitalization is a small branch growing from a much bigger global or maybe even universal tree trunk. That tree of a phenomenon, is the decentralization of information and power.

In short the disruptors (non digital too) typically diminish the importance of institutions that previously have had the privileged to gather, control, access, and distribute information centrally. These institutions then typically exploit this privileged to information to their best interest. Exploitation however, is accepted as long as there are no other options.

With a disruptor changing the game, acceptance turns easily into resentment speeding up the change and maybe makes up the time lost in the losing battle of the old establishment. By the way, did I hear someone say something about the self regulating Finnish taxi association? Maybe you could turn to church for some pep talk – and don’t worry, you will not be alone. Others will follow, even institutions bigger and much holier than you.

Why are we talking about this now?

It seems that the society seems to change both gradually, but also in more significant leaps. Looking at the push factors, these bigger leaps are seem to be caused by advances in technology (technology: systematic treatment of an art, craft or a technique) and innovation.

You can reach as far back as you want to highlight the importance of some really fundamental concepts as the wheel, but maybe I should just pick out a few random examples like standardization started by Colt (sometimes it’s pretty obvious, I have an engineering background -too, that is) or the Gutenberg’s printing press.

The latest push towards another paradigm shift has the ever so amazing Internet as the head disruptor, with affordable technology as a mighty side kick and a lively entourage of their children IoT, Robotization, Mobile Devices et al. I bet this previously mentioned tough bunch is still gaining momentum, making me partly excited partly doubtful what will come out of this.

In the pull factor side on the other half to fuel the change, is most obviously greed. Looking at more concrete issues, perhaps one driver is the demographic structure of the western world countries having their dependency ratio turing belly up – or maybe we have finally started to worry about sustainability.

Where are we going then?

Whilst seeing a lot brighter future for example in enhanced telecommunication solutions to stop all unnecessary physical traffic of both people but also services and things (3D printing -another cliché, but let’s just say this for SEO sake, hah!) or in automation to free people from work more natural to machines – just like with steam engines, there are some really difficult questions to be asked about the distribution of wealth.

As the relation between capital and labor is destined to change, my thoughts seem to always lead towards some kind of unconditional basic income. Now, before getting all excited about not willing to support “slackers and other nogooders” on social support, please bare in mind that people with nothing to lose take big risks. If this issue is not being correctly addressed, the outcome will be learned the hard way.

Despite some possible setbacks and thereby also some inevitable misery on the way, in future I see a more open and equal society ahead that has restored our connection to our environment in a sustainable way.

Maybe the brighter future will make a good topic for a future blog! -what do you think?

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