I’ve improved my productivity. Here’s how.

I’ve improved my productivity. Here’s how.

It was Wednesday morning. I was struggling. It was hump day but the clock hadn’t even struck 9 am. I wanted to go home.

My eyes hurt. I had a headache that radiated on the left side of my skull. It concentrated over my left eyebrow.

I had it for two days in a row. Maybe it was a migraine? It didn’t seem like it would get any better any time soon. I wasn’t getting anything done. My focus was gone. Then I tried something out. And I was productive again.

Purpose

This post is a mish mash of ideas for how you can be more productive.

These are a few things I’ve tried in recent weeks that have enhanced my productivity at work. This isn’t the end-all be-all of productivity posts.

These are some things that I have been working on recently to maintain a level of productivity that has amazed co-workers. (Not to brag…I just want you believe what I’m saying.)

So what am I doing to be productive?

Get rid of blue light

I had a massive headache. 10 hours in front of the computer was getting to me. My eyes hurt. My vision blurred. I was tired but found myself unable to sleep at night. So I decided to try something. I got rid of the blue light.

I installed f.lux on my work computer that Wednesday. Immediately I noticed a reduction in eye strain. With a day or two my headaches dissipated.

If you don’t know, f.lux is a software that adjusts your computer light to the time of day. If it’s day time, then your screen is bright. If it’s early morning or late evening, it gradually reduces the blue light and brightness of your screen.

I used this software to reduce the blue light of my screen, even during the day.

I felt great. I could sit at the computer for hours without losing focus. The glare of the blue light in my eyes was no more. I didn’t feel like I had to step away from the computer every 20 minutes.

By using f.lux on my computer, I survived 10 to 12 hours of staring at the computer without having the awful migraines that accompany it.

Reducing blue light not only makes me more productive, but I’ve been sleeping better too. For instance, reducing blue light, especially before you bed, has been shown to improve sleep.

I also use a blue light filter on my phone and tablet. I can read a book on my tablet before bed every night and not have to suffer from the effects of that awful blue light permeating my eyes.

(Keep in mind, some blue light is good for you. This is how your body knows that it’s day time and time to get to work. That’s why I step out of the office every few hours to get some natural blue light from the sun light.)

Have a purpose

This seems obvious. When you have a purpose for why you are doing something, you are more likely to do that thing and stick to it longer.

A purpose makes a task easier to do. You know exactly why you are doing what you are doing. Even if the purpose is weak or insignificant, it will help you get through something you don’t really want to do.

For example, there are times when I am assigned to do something I don’t really want to do.

When this happens, I could do one of two things. I could complain about how I don’t want to do that thing. “Why can’t so-and-so do it?” Or “this isn’t fair, why do I have to be punished by doing this?”

I’m sure you can think of times where you were assigned something you didn’t want to do. How did you react?

Most people go the first route and complain. I know, because I used to be a complainer. (I still am at times, but nowhere near as much as before.)

I shifted my mentality early on. There is an alternative to complaining. Now I look at things as a learning opportunity. I look at this (unwanted) opportunity as a chance to learn a new area. I use that project to expand my knowledge and add to my repertoire.

This is my purpose when I do almost anything new. “What can I learn about X?” Or, “oh well, I have to do this whether I want to or not. I might as well learn as much as I can about the topic at hand.”

For me, using learning as my purpose has greatly improved my life. When the purpose is to learn something you, it restores that natural curiosity that escapes many of us once we become older.

But you’re purpose doesn’t have to be to learn something new. That’s just one idea.

Your purpose could be to make your customers happy. Or it could be to connect with new people. Or it could be to help those around you.

Whatever it is that you are assigned to do in work, or even life, always have a purpose for why you are doing that thing. No purpose = no drive. And without drive it’s almost impossible to get anything done.

FOCUS

John Lee Dumas, creator of Entrepreneur on Fire, has this saying of “FOCUS.” To him, FOCUS means to Follow One Course Until Success.

This all ties into the mindfulness and awareness that I’ve been practicing recently. When you have a lot on your plate, it’s easy to jump from task to task and never get anything done.

Have you ever had a day like that? A day where you seem to be busy. But then but they end of the day, you feel like you got nothing done?

This is what happens to me when I multi-task and try to do a bunch of things at once. I feel busy but I don’t actually get anything done.

When you focus on one task until completion, you are able to get into a flow state which enables you to focus or get in the zone as athletes call it.

When you’re in a flow state, time seems to slow down but also speed up (as weird as it sounds). You become engrossed in your work. You become one with what you are doing. Next thing you know, you are knocking out stuff left and right and the work day is over!

So try it out. When you write out your next to do list, only list 3 things, and put full focus on concentration on that first item on your list before proceeding.

Do nothing

What if I told you that you could be more productive by doing nothing?

I do nothing for a big chunk of work each day.

That’s not to say I sit around all day doing nothing. Let me give you an example:

Every day I get into work around 7 or 7:30. I focus on my work for a solid two or three hours. I really focus on one task and do my best to complete it in that time frame.

Then, around 10 am every morning I step outside the office and go for a walk. I’ll take about five to ten minutes to just walk around.

During this walk I really try to become aware of the world around me. I shut my mind off to the work I was just doing a minute earlier. I become completely aware of the world around me.

I take in the environment and the trees around me. I look up to the sky at the clouds. I listen to the birds chirping. All while I am taking a slow, leisurely walk.

It’s all very relaxing and meditative. I’m able to step away from the voice inside my head for a few minutes in the morning. Any worries and fears that I was just thinking about while in the office dissipate for those brief moments.

By the time my ten minutes are up, I’m ready to dive right back into what I’m doing.

By doing nothing for a 10 minutes in the morning, and again in the afternoon, I’m able to feel refreshed once I dive back into the task that I was doing.

Too many people plug away at something for hours and hours because they need to get it done.

They believe in powering through the morning and working through lunch. Then they feel sluggish around 2 pm. So they pound coffee and try to power through the afternoon.

I know because some of my co-workers are like this. What they don’t know is that constantly being “plugged-in” is actually making them less productive.

I’m under the impression that you need to get away from what you are doing every few hours if possible. Taking mini-breaks throughout the day can add to your productivity by leaps and bounds.

So try this next time you work. When you are on your work break, step away from your desk (or work station), and go for a walk (or sit outside) and practice mindfulness of the world around you.

Let go of those thoughts you have from work. Practice some mindfulness mediation in these few minutes. Then see how you feel when you get back to work.

This works for me

This isn’t your typical list. Some things are your normal productivity tips, like having a purpose and focusing on a single task. But implementing these in my life I really do feel more productive.

As for those unorthodox things…I really believe that reducing blue light at certain points in the day has helped me focus on the computer, where 99% of my work is performed. My headaches are gone and I sleep better at night.

And finally, doing nothing intermittently throughout the day is a sure fire way to survive the day.

This works for me. Try them out and let me know what you think.

What are some tips you have for staying productive? Is there anything out of the ordinary that makes you more focused and productive?

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Your thoughts are like a dog on a leash

Your thoughts are like a dog on a leash

It’s 10:10 pm, and I’m winding down to go to bed. I’ve implemented meditation into my life. You can read more about that here. Or here.

I made a decision to meditate before I go to bed.

Why? I noticed that I sleep better on nights where I meditate right before bed.

Am I supposed­­ to medita­te right before bed? Some experts say no. But I don’t care because I feel better doing it.

A few minutes go by as I’m sitting in my chair, trying to go through my mindfulness meditation routine. I have some light music playing in the background, and I’m really trying to focus on my breath.

“What should I have for breakfast?” pops into my head. Shoot. That brought me out of my focused, peaceful state of conciousness.

I take a few deep breaths and focus on my breath and body.

“How am I going to get all of that stuff done at work tomorrow? There’s no way I can do it. I’m so sick of all this…” Arg! I did it again.

Okay, for real this time. I close my eyes and focus on my breaths. I count to three breaths.

“I forgot to schedule my dentist appointment again! I need to make a note of this.” I grab my phone and make a quick note to remind myself to schedule an appointment tomorrow.

“Well that ruined any chance of meditating tonight.”

How many times has this happened to you?

It seems to be happening to me more often lately than I would like.

I sit down to meditate. Then my thoughts explode.

All of the things that I forget about during the day magically appear in my conscious mind. All those thoughts, worries, stresses, appointments, meetings, and so forth.

You name it, and I’m thinking about it, when I least want to.

What could I do to fix this?

A wise friend once gave me some advice when it comes to meditating. They told me my mind is a dog.

“Okay…what?” I asked.

“Just hear me out,” said wise person.

“Imagine your mind as a dog on a leash. Every time you meditate and have a thought, your mind suddenly wants to chase after it.”

“It’s like when a dog sees a car or a ball or another dog. They start going after it and trying to get it.”

“During the day, your mind is an unleashed dog. It chases whatever it wants and goes wherever it wants.”

“But when you meditate, you want to put the dog on a leash. Put your mind on a leash.”

“Your mind is going to chase thoughts for no reason.”

Like when I started to think about breakfast, work, and appointments for no apparent reason.

“So what you need to do is let your mind pursue those thoughts to an extent. And once they’ve gone too far, pull them back in. Just like you would do to a dog on a leash.”

“It’s okay to let your mind pursue different thoughts to a degree. But if you let them go too far, you are defeating the purpose of the meditation.”

“Let your mind wander very slightly, and once it’s gone far enough, pull it back in.”

My wise friend may also be a little crazy. But he has a good point.

So I’m going to try this out next time I meditate. I’ll let my thoughts go a little bit, but then I will pull them back in. Just like a dog on a leash.

Maybe this analogy will help me focus better with my mindfulness meditation. Or maybe it’s just crazy talk. Whatever the case may be, I’m going to test it out tonight and see how it goes.

But I don’t want to work 50 hours a week

But I don’t want to work 50 hours a week

I haven’t had the chance to write a post in almost two months. And it sucks.

On January 13, 2016 at 10:34 am I got the call from my supervisor.

“Our projects across the company are behind. We are requiring everyone to put in 50 hours workweeks at a minimum until further notice.”

“So we need to work 10 hours per day?” I asked.

“If you don’t want to do that, you could come in on the weekend. Just as long as you get in your 50 hours.”

“Fuck that.” I thought to myself.

I know many people work more hours than that. But they also make more money than me.

Broken Promise?

I chose to come to this company because it promised 40 hour work weeks and a work life balance. In return I make less money than those who chose to go to bigger companies.

It’s been a struggle.

Some days I work from 7 am to 5:30 pm (lunch is unpaid).

A couple of days last week I worked 7:45 am to 8:30 pm. All just so I could leave just a little earlier on Friday.

I place a lot of value on my free time. I am not a workaholic. I never have been and never will be.

I prefer to participate in leisurely activities to fill up my time outside of work. I play basketball and tennis. I try to read a new book every couple of weeks. And I enjoy writing on this blog.

But I haven’t been able to do that lately. Work has filled up my time. It’s made me stressed out and unhealthy.

Learning to Cope

I’ve been learning how to cope with the long work hours. The first week I didn’t get enough sleep.

The second week I binge drank on the weekend to escape from my worries. (Note to self: don’t do this.)

The third week I struggled but was able to get back into a routine and working out and reading (albeit much less than usual).

The fourth week I remembered about the power of meditation and yoga.

It hasn’t been an easy journey.

Why Do So Many Others Choose this Path?

My question is this: why do people choose to work so many hours? Are people looking to escape from their lives through work?

Maybe I’m being selfish. Maybe I should just suck it up and accept it for what it is.

Or maybe I’m not.

I don’t know the answer.

I’m still working 50 hours. Hopefully it will end soon. But who knows?

Have you had experience working long (50+ per week) hours? How did you cope with it? Did your personal life suffer?

 

I Wasn’t Going to Do This

I Wasn’t Going to Do This

I didn’t plan to write about my year in review. I guess I don’t think much of New Years.

People on Facebook post “new year, new me!” I think these posts are ridiculous. Why should the new year change who you are?

Many people don’t keep their new year’s resolutions. Isn’t this enough to show a different year doesn’t change who people are?

Despite this, I’m going to write about my year in review. I had an amazing 2015. The purpose of this post is for me to express my gratitude to the past year, and touch on what I hope to accomplish going forward.

“We Should Go to Europe!”

In early April, my girlfriend asked me if I would like to go to Europe with her in the summer. Travelling Europe was a dream of hers. She would be getting her Bachelor’s in May, and the upcoming summer would be the perfect time to travel.

I’d never been out of the country before. I was hesitant. I read news stories about horrific things that happen to tourists.

You know the stories – terrorist attacks and random acts of violence.

Prior to the trip, I did my research. I read about people who got pickpocketed or scammed.

I read horror stories about people getting caught in the airport or losing their luggage.

Oh yeah, my other concern had to do with the 10 hour flight from the U.S. to Europe.

I knew flying is safer than driving. But I still had thoughts of the Malaysian airline plan that randomly went missing.

Despite these (completely irrational) fears I couldn’t say no. These worries weren’t going to prevent me from taking the trip of a lifetime.

“I can’t wait to go!” I said to my girlfriend with slight hesitation.

I’m Grateful I Had This Opportunity

I’m grateful I could take a month off from work and travel. This isn’t a privilege that many people get to have, and I had it.

In July, my girlfriend and I traveled throughout Spain by car for two weeks. Afterwards we hopped on a plane to Amsterdam, Netherlands for a few days. Then we took a train to Cologne, Germany for a couple of days. Then a short bus trip to Brussels, Belgium. And finally one last flight back to Spain to visit my girlfriend’s family for a week.

A Wonderful Learning Experience

I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to observe different cultures and the different ways of life.

I was exposed to the Spanish culture of taking afternoon siestas and lunches being the biggest meal of the day.

I saw a more laid back, slower pace of life in these countries. Contrast this with America, where everything is quick, full-throttle all of the time. The slower pace of life was a nice change.

I’m grateful that I got to see many beautiful landmarks. I saw countless Cathedrals throughout Spain, including those in Avila, Seville, and Barcelona.

I also got to see breathtaking museums in Amsterdam and Cologne. Museums which chronicled the rise and fall of Nazi Germany in World War II. Others that exposed me to the art of Rembrandt and Van Gogh.

I’m grateful because I found a greater appreciation for the world.

I appreciate the other cultures that share the world.

I appreciate how far we have come as a civilization.

What Else am I Grateful for in 2015?

Going to Europe was the trip I will never forget. But it’s not the only thing that I’m grateful for in 2015.

I’ve learned to become more present. I’ve learned to live in the current moment.

In years past I would fret about the future or the past instead of enjoying the present.

As a result, my mind focused on those things that I cannot control right now.

I’ve learned to live in the present and savor each and every day that I have.

You Know How You Savor a Good Meal?

You smell the food prior to eating. You chew the food slower, and try to identify its many flavors. You strive to make every bite count.

This is my new approach to life. I try to savor every moment that I have. I don’t rush to get things done.

I’m more present. I live in the current moment. I work daily to become more aware of where I am and what I am doing.

As a result, I’m more in touch with myself. I better recognize how I really feel.

If you read my last post, I don’t worry about the past or the future any more. Life’s too short to worry about those things. Time is just an illusion. All we have is the moment that is given to us right now.

I’m extremely happy with 2015.

Most people are ready to turn the calendar over to the next year. They hope for a better year. This year I don’t feel that way. I’ve grown a lot as a person. And I couldn’t be more pleased.

Moving On to 2016

I’m not asking much more from 2016 than I got from 2015. But, if I had to list out some goals, here they are:

1. Continue to learn every day.

Learning keeps you young. It makes you grow.

Not only that, but growing and learning helps you identify opportunities.

I also talked about this in my last post. I strive to make every moment a learning and growing opportunity.

2. I want to help others more.

It’s easy to focus on what I want.

In 2016 I strive to help others out more.

I think I do a decent job of this, but I would like to improve going forward. And I want to help others continue grow and learn as well.

That’s why I enjoy blogging so much. If only one person learns something new from what I write, then I have accomplished my goal as a writer.

3. Create an ecommerce business that will allow me to quit my job.

This last goal is one that I’ve been working at for a couple of years now.

I want to make money selling products online. This goal is completely unrelated to this blog. I have no intention of making money from this blog.

But I do have plans to grow my ecommerce business online. My goal is to generate enough income that will allow me to quit my job and focus on this business full time.

If this doesn’t work out, will 2016 be a bust? Of course not!

I had a goal of generating income from eBooks in 2015, and I failed miserably. And here I am, calling 2015 one of my best years ever.

These are my goals. But they’re not really goals as much as they are reminders. Reminders of who I am and who I would like to become.

What about you?

What is one thing you are grateful for in 2015? And what is one goal you would like to accomplish in 2016? Let me know with a comment below!

I hated my job. That all changed when I did this.

I hated my job. That all changed when I did this.

It was Tuesday evening and I was driving home from work. I was overwhelmed and miserable. I tried to cry, but there were no tears.

My life was over. I lost all motivation and excitement for everything.

My life was one boring routine. I was wasting away. Or so I thought.

These were my feelings when I started working my job two years ago. I hated my job. I was bored. I felt as though I wasted five years working on a degree that I didn’t want anymore.

I was miserable, but didn’t have any reason to be. I had a great boss and supportive co-workers. However, the actual work left much to be desired.

Two years later, and I’m still here.

I’m still not fulfilled by my job. I’m a little unhappy. But I cope with my situation.

I’ve changed a lot in two years. I’m more mature. I have a completely different outlook on life.

Selfishness

When I graduated I was selfish. I didn’t want to work hard. I wanted an easy way out. An easy way to make money that would only require a few hours of work per week.

I didn’t have focus or drive. Not like I do today.

How did I overcome that initial resistance? How did I make this job manageable, even sometimes enjoyable? And how have I managed to get more out of life?

That’s what I want to share with you.

If you’re working a job you hate, this article is for you. I’m going to pass on my experience working a job I hated. Maybe you’ll get some value from it.

Become present

When you work a job you hate, you think about every other place that you’d rather be.

I was working at a remote audit site an hour from home. I remember looking out the window thinking of where I would rather be.

I wanted to be outside enjoying the warm summer air.

I wanted to be working another job.

I wanted to be researching stocks.

I wanted to be playing basketball.

I was living an imaginary existence. I was living in the past thinking of how things were. I longed for a time machine so I could change the past.

I was stressing about the future and what I wanted to be doing instead what I was doing. I was stressed about how far away and out of reach that future seemed to me.

I was living everywhere except for the present

While staring out that window, I had a moment of clarity. I forced myself to live fully in the moment and not worry about the past or the future.

I realized the mind clouds present moment with thoughts of the past or the future.

“The mind, to ensure that it remains in control, seeks continuously covering up the present moment with past and future, and so, as the vitality and infinite creative potential of Being, which is inseparable from Now, becomes covered up by time, your true nature becomes obscured by the mind. An increasingly heavy burden of time has been accumulating in the human mind.” – Eckhard Tolle, The Power of Now

I can’t go back and change the past. And I can’t run faster towards the future. So why waste brain power and energy thinking about these things?

All I can control is what I do today right now.

How has living presently changed things?

I stress less about the future and I don’t concern myself with the past. I’m happier and enjoy the little things in life.

Living present makes time go faster and makes work go faster.

When I focus on the work on hand, I’m more engaged. As long as I focus on doing one thing right now, time seems moves quicker.

This happens because you get into flow states of focus and concentration. Flow state, also known as “the zone” was coined by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, a Hungarian psychologist.

In this mental state you perform an activity in which you are fully immersed in “a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.”

However, you can’t get into flow if you are thinking about the past or the future. As a matter of fact, Jeanne Nakamura and Csíkszentmihályi identified six factors that encompass flow states, and number one on their list is “intense and focused concentration on the present moment.”

I find that the work day goes by quicker and I’m more engaged. As a result, I get more out of the day feel prouder about myself. That’s the power of living presently and engaging in one single task at a time.

If you interested about flow, check out Csíkszentmihályi’s Ted Talk on this topic. Also, Steven Kotler recently wrote a great book, The Rise of Superman, which goes in depth on flow, which I highly recommend!

Don’t focus on what you hate doing

When I started working, I thought about was how much I hated my job. I hated being cooped up in an office all day. I hated auditing people. I felt like people hated me.

My life was filled with negativity and bad energy. This brought my mood down, making me extremely pessimistic.

Instead of feeding my brain positive thought patterns, I dwelled on the negative. This made work harder and the job unbearable.

I needed a shift in thinking. So I decided to stop focusing on the negative.

But I didn’t shift into the “positive thinking” mindset. I’ve tried this before and it doesn’t work.

In the past, I would tell myself I was happy, I loved my job and there wasn’t anything else I would rather do. Instead, this actually made me more discontent. I was lying to myself. Telling these lies caused cognitive dissonance.

If you don’t focus on positive thinking, what do you focus on?

I focus on a learning and growth mindset. This can apply to any job. For me, it’s about focusing on learning as much as I can from everyone surrounding me.

My goal is to learn as much on each project I work on. I learn as much as I can from my co-workers and other individuals I come in contact with.

I commit to learning as much as I can and have a mastery outlook with what I do. If you can focus on learning one thing each day from one person around you, your life will become more productive.

If you work in retail, learn as much about your customers as possible. Do you have repeat customers? What do they tend to buy? Do people buy certain things together?

Learn as much as you can about your superiors. How did they get into the position they are in? What skills do they have that you would like to have? What faults do they have that you want to learn from?

Also, learn as much about your company as you can. Figure out why you do things the way you do. Learn about its history. Find out what makes it tick and what makes it successful.

When I shifted away from the “I hate doing…” to “I have to work 8 hours today, so what is one thing I can learn today?” my perspective of work changed. I get more out of each day because I strive to pick up skills that I can apply to other areas of my life, not just work.

Stay busy outside of work.

On that day I was driving home from work, completely miserable, I made a commitment to make the most of my time away from work.

I knew there would be many days where I would make myself miserable and unhappy if I wasn’t working towards something bigger and towards a brighter future for myself.

I started a personal finance blog. I had visions of it growing. I believed I would become the next popular personal finance blogger. But I didn’t. I failed.

I shifted gears and decided to write eBooks about personal finance. I had visions of creating a passive income stream through these books. My goal was to make $10,000 a month from eBooks. But I didn’t. I failed.

Even though I failed in both of these areas, I pursued something that I enjoyed. I pursued activities that I looked forward to at the end of the every day. I lived for the challenge of coming up with blog posts and chapters for books.

I didn’t want to come home every day, plop down in front of the TV and waste away my hours away from work.

I pursued things that interested me. I continue to pursue things that interest me. Without this drive and desire to make the most of my free time, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

I lost interest in my personal finance blog and eBooks. But those activities made me a much better writer. Better than I’ve ever been at any point in my life.

I’m pursing an ecommerce business on the side. This is my next project I’m working on to become financially free.

I look forward to this every day. It serves as a reminder that my job is only temporary.

If I knew I had 30 to 40 years left working at my current job I would be miserable. But I’m not, because I know that I won’t be here forever.

I’m constantly reading, listening to podcasts, talking to people, and focusing on improving myself every day. I strive to learn as much about business and entrepreneurship every day.

What if you don’t want to be an entrepreneur? What could you do instead?

Anything!

Do you like sports? Take it up after work. Join a local rec league. Volunteer to coach your local high school team. Join a gym.

You could also volunteer. Network and meet new people. Join Toastmasters. Research other career opportunities and take the first step to getting out of your current situation.

Be productive and make the most of your time. Work towards something meaningful in your free time if you don’t derive meaning from your job. Give yourself something to look forward to.

Your situation isn’t permanent. You have options and choices in the world. You just might have to stick it out at your current job a little longer.

If you are in a volatile situation, these tips may not work for you. You may need to get out. But if you’re like me and you’re working a job to pay the bills, try out some of the tips above. I don’t know if they will work. But they work for me. Here I am today, happy and excited about the possibilities in my future.

How to improve your listening skills so that others open up to you

How to improve your listening skills so that others open up to you

Last month I was working on a project with my coworker, Mike, when I came across something that I thought was unusual.

It was something I’ve never seen before, and I wanted Mike’s opinion on what we should do.

I wanted to talk it out and get an explanation of some sort. About two sentences into my speech, Mike cut me off.

“Don’t worry about that. It’s not important,” He said.

That was it.

No explanation of why it wasn’t important.

Mike cut me off before I had a chance to explain. His short, abrupt response didn’t help me whatsoever.

I’m trying to learn and figure something out. And all he could say was that it wasn’t important.

His half assed response infuriated me.

I didn’t have any resolution. He made my job harder because not only did I not know why this didn’t matter, but I had to figure out on my own why it wasn’t important and document my reasoning.

Mike pissed me off. Why didn’t he listen to me? He could’ve given me an explanation and let me go on my way. Instead I completely wasted my time trying to figure out things on my own.

Mike’s not the best listener. But he’s not alone.

When people fail to listen, problems sprout up like weeds. It makes jobs harder. It leads to miscommunication. And it wastes time.

I’ve Resolved to Become a Good Listener

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to value good listening.

Growing up as a middle child, I felt like no one ever listened to me. Maybe I’m self-conscious about it.

Regardless, I made a promise not to make others feel like they are being ignored. I’m not perfect. I have moments where my attention dwindles.

Benefits of Listening

People have a tendency to tell me more information when I shut my mouth and listen to what they say.

By showing an ability to listen, people appreciate your patience and listening skills. They are also more likely to open up to you and tell you their deep, dark secrets.

If I were an evil person, I could use this to my advantage. But I’m not. I have, however, found this skill to be quite useful in my personal life and my work life.

You better understand people’s quirks and attitudes better. From there, you can adapt your behavior to their little quirks which is huge to help avoid any confrontation or animosity.

Great Leaders Listen

According to Sir Richard Branson, if you want to stand out as a leader, start by listening. Listening is a skill that helps you throughout your career. It helps you gather information on how to move things along by paying attention to what employees are saying.

Branson says “Leaders who are great listeners are often terrific at uncovering and putting in place strategies and plans that have a big impact.”

“We have two ears and one tongue so that we would listen more and talk less.” – Diogenes

We listen for a variety of reasons: to obtain info, decipher it, learn, and for pure enjoyment. However, research shows we only remember about 25 to 50 percent of what we hear.

Many employers say listening is one of the top skills they look for in employees.

If you’re a business owner or employee, listening increases customer satisfaction, leads to greater productivity, fewer mistakes, and an increase in information shared among individuals.

How Can We Become Better Listeners?

1. Have an Open Mind

Start by having an open mind to what your speaker is saying. Listen without judging or criticizing.

Occasionally when I talk to someone with a different opinion from me, I can tell if they are tuning out what I say. What ends up happening is I don’t listen to what they say in retaliation. We are both stubborn, and all communication breaks down.

Hold back your thoughts, and listen without judging or criticizing. Don’t interrupt someone else when they are trying to finish their sentences.

2. Actively Listen

Pay complete attention to your speaker. Be mindful of what they are saying. Put away books, papers, your cell phone, and any other distractions that will detract from their message.

Sometimes I get bored when I hear someone else talking. I remind myself to repeat what they say in my head as they say it. This turns listening into an active activity instead of passive.

3. Make Eye Contact

Have you ever talked to someone while their eyes dart around the room? It’s kind of distracting.

Look at the speaker directly. Don’t become distracted by those things around you. Maintain eye contact with your subject.

4. Connect Emotionally

Listen to not only the words that the person is saying, but listen to the emotion behind those words. Are they excited or sad or angry?

Emotion drives a lot of our communication. Emotional awareness will lead to greater comprehension and understanding in your communication.

5. Pay Attention to Nonverbal Clues

“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said” -Peter Drucker

Nonverbal communication makes up a majority of our communication.

Some say that 93 percent of our communication is nonverbal, others say 55 percent. The numbers don’t matter. At the end of the day, more than half of our communication with one another is nonverbal.

Pay attention to how someone is behaving. Are the fidgeting? Are they avoiding eye contact? Do they seem closed off?

These nonverbal clues can give you a peek into their mind and give you an idea of how they’re really feeling.

6. Acknowledge the Other Person

Nod your head and say “uh huh” or “yeah” to reassure the person that really are listening.

Not only that, but respond to the speaker in a way that encourages them to continue speaking. Be sure to recap what they say every so often. You can do this by saying, “So what you’re saying is…” or “So you think…”

This helps you understand better what they are saying, forces you to recall what you’re saying, and reinforces to the speaker that you are actually listening to their concerns.

7. Encourage Further Communication

Once you develop an understanding, ask open ended questions that encourage them to talk further and expand upon what they were saying.

You want to respond in a way that encourages your speaker to continue speaking. This way you can extract more information that you can utilize down the road. Ask open ended questions that allow for further explanation.

That’s It

I’m not the best listener, that’s why I wrote this post. Sometimes I need to remind myself why listening is important and how to listen better.

Would you consider yourself a good listener? What would you recommend in order to become a better listener?

How you can discover your passion and purpose in life

How you can discover your passion and purpose in life

I don’t have a passion.

I work as an auditor. I chose a safe major in school which led to a safe career path. I’m good at what I do, but it doesn’t make me feel alive.

Every day I feel a little more anxious because I haven’t found my passion. Four or five nights a week I wake up, without fail, apprehensive and scared.

I worry that I’ll never find my calling. I want to follow my passion, but I don’t know what that is.

What am I doing wrong?

Teachers, leaders, mentors, and family members encourage us to do what we love. The message is everywhere. On television. At Harvard commencement speeches. In Ted Talks. “Do what makes you come alive,” they say.

What if nothing comes to mind?

I don’t have a passion. There isn’t one thing that make me come alive. At least not in the way those public speakers make it sound.

I have a wide variety of interests. I love sports. I enjoy learning and helping others. I find psychology and entrepreneurship fascinating. But I wouldn’t say I’m passionate about any one of those things.

The problem with finding your passions

The educational system

The education system don’t foster students’ passions.

The educational model is the same system that popped up during the industrial revolution. Kids spend the six or seven hours per day in a class room, performing academic drills in math, science, and English.

As a result of this model, we don’t foster children’s natural creativity.

Sir Ken Robinson talked about this in his popular Ted Talk, “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” Robinson believes that we are all born with “immense, natural, creative abilities” which “slip away as we get older.”

Instead of nurturing creative abilities, we devote equal time to specific academic areas every day.

Robinson believes that the educational system is too standardized. He’s right. Everyone learns differently, but school doesn’t foster to these individual differences.

Standardized testing overrules creative activities. Teachers are evaluated based on how many students they can get to pass a test.

Administrators don’t nurture creativity. You can’t measure creativity. You can’t put a number on it. You can’t rank students and pay teachers based on the creative ability of their students.

Students are steered away from their passions

According to Robinson, students are steered away from their passions and interests in the current educational system.

The educational system is a factory learning environment. You plug students into the system, teach them up, and send them on their way. This one size fits all system kills passions.

If an 8 year old kid loves science, they aren’t encouraged to spend more time on science. Instead, they have to take the same classes in equal parts for over a decade of their life.

Then they go to college and focus on what their passionate about (if they haven’t developed a distain for education yet). But they still have to go through 2 years of prerequisites so that they are “well-rounded” citizens.

As a result, children and driven away from their passions by taking a decade and a half of the same classes instead of focusing on what they love.

Dreams Crushed at a Young Age

“You can’t make a living doing that.”

“No one will pay you to paint or play music.”

“There’s too much competition.”

“Be realistic.”

Parents who do this stunt, and even destroy, a child’s growth. It discourages natural curiosity and tells people not to follow their passions because they’re not realistic.

This leads to the wrong focus. Get a safe job so that you can pay the bills. Get a job that is well-paying and well-respected. Parents push their kids to go to medical or law school so that they can have a successful life.

That’s what happened to Eric Reed. Eric was a successful lawyer who had everything you could imagine. He had a fancy house, nice car, and could buy almost anything you could imagine.

But Eric was working crazy hours. I’m talking 12 to 14 hours a day. When Eric wasn’t sleeping he was working. He hardly saw his family and was unfulfilled with life.

Eric did everything that you’re supposed to do. He got a respected job. He could buy anything he wanted. But he still wasn’t happy.

Eric isn’t alone. Many people face this same struggle. I know because I’m facing that struggle. I picked a job that was safe and pays well. But I don’t love it.

Eric broke free from his shackles. He followed his passion and became a travel writer. Now if only I could do that…

Misconception of Passion

Passion is a strong term. For me, starting with passion isn’t a good place to begin. I don’t feel passionate about anything in particular.

I think maybe the word itself is the cause for a lot of anxiety.

So what do I do since I don’t feel like I have a passion?

Pick One Thing and Move in That Direction

What interests you today? For me, it’s writing, entrepreneurship, and psychology. These are areas that I pursue a little every day.

I don’t expect to make money from these interests right now, and that’s okay. Because I enjoy these things already, I don’t need to make money.

Dive Deep in What You Like

What area do you really like? What are you interested in at the moment? Dive deep into that area.

Discover everything you can about that area. Read about it. Talk to people who work in it. Study it. And finally, become that area.

Take music for example. If I become really passionate about music, I would first start to play an instrument and understand music theory.

I would talk to other musicians and get their advice. I would hire a coach or teacher to help me become better. And I would practice every single day.

What if I lose interest?

I talk to other musicians and take lessons for six months. But don’t feel as interested in music as I did before. Now what?

Naturally, I would move on. It’s a simple as that! It’s okay to quit something that you thought you were more interested in at one point in time.

You are searching for your passion (or something like it). Don’t pursue something that you don’t want to do anymore. It isn’t a life sentence. Don’t be afraid to quit.

Move on to the next thing

Move on to whatever interests you next. Pursue this thing until you lose interest. Or continue to pursue it as long as you enjoy it.

It’s okay to quit what you are doing and move on to the next thing. One of two things will happen: you will find what brings you to life or you will add tools to the toolbox for the future.

When you pursue diverse interests, you become proficient in different areas.

Let’s say I’m interested in music for a few months but eventually get bored. I become interested in psychology and marketing. Then I become extremely interested in computers.

After becoming proficient in those areas, I could take all of this knowledge and combine it into one new idea. After all, that’s how many of the great careers or products began.

Doing many things before finding “the one”

One person who’s done a number of things before finding his true calling is Robert Greene.

Robert Greene is the bestselling author of the 48 Laws of Power, The Art of Seduction, and Mastery. But he didn’t become a best seller overnight.

Greene said that he worked 80 jobs before becoming a best-selling author. He previously worked as a construction worker, screenwriter, and hotel receptionist.

He learned a lot from those jobs. He worked many crappy jobs with crappy people and was able to take everything he learned and make something out of it. This ultimately led to him writing The 48 Laws of Power and The Art of Seduction.

That’s what I strive to do

I follow my interests in my free time, working on them a little bit here and there as I can. I pick a path and go down that path as far I want. There will be detours along the way. There already have been. And that’s okay with me.

I don’t get paid for what I’m pursuing right now, and that’s fine.

I don’t make money from writing, but I do it because I enjoy it. I enjoy the challenge of researching and writing and expressing my thoughts.

I don’t have a passion. But lately I haven’t been waking up in the middle of the week worrying.

I pursue what interests me in my free time. If these interests amount to something down the road, great! If not, at least I’m doing something I enjoy in my free time and staying productive.

What do you think? Have you found your passion? What did your journey look like?

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