How I stop wasting time and better manage my curiosities

How I stop wasting time and better manage my curiosities

Yesterday I stumbled across an article on Medium called “The 7 Most Underrated Websites Online.” Being my naturally curious self, I spent time clicking through the 7 websites to see what they have to offer.

I started my journey on this curiosity crusade around 12:30 pm. When all was said and done, I spent the better part of a half hour poking around on these sites, instead of working on research that I needed to do.

We’re in this together

One thing that struck me a few months ago in my article titled “Be More Greedy With Your Time” is that many of you struggle with the same thing I do when it comes to curiosity. As I noted in that article, curiosity is the lead domino that starts to cycle of me wasting time.

I was kind of surprised when I saw how many of you out there have the same ailment as I. It got me thinking…we can’t be the only ones who have to deal with this issue on a daily basis.

The purpose of this article to address some possible solutions to this curiosity bug. I want to explore some ideas I’ve incorporated, and some others that I think could be useful to those who are in a similar predicament.

Want to know your priorities? Look at where you spend your time.

One of the first things I would recommend for those of you with a curiosity bug is to review you internet history. You can’t know where your time is going if you don’t know what you spend your time on.

I’ll admit, I got inspiration from this idea in “The Effective Executive,” a classic business management book written in 1967 by Peter F. Drucker. In that book, he states that one must record their time before one can know where it goes and before one can attempt to manage it.

This is great advice for managing time, and I think it can be applied to managing those curiosities as well. I used this advice myself by looking through my browsing history over the past week or so and seeing where I spent a majority of my time online.

I see that I spend a lot of time on Facebook and ESPN (no surprise). But I also see all of my searches I’ve made in Google during that time period as well.

I’m able to get an idea of what I was looking at, when I was looking at it, how long I was looking at it, and what path it led me down during that period of time.

How many websites did I visit? What was I looking for initially? Was my curiosity satisfied? Or did I stop searching before I actually found what I was looking for? Or did I get distracted by something else along the way?

One surprising thing I noticed was that many of my “curiosity searches” come to an abrupt end before I even found the answer. Another large chunk of those searches were completely unrelated to what I was looking for initially. Finally, many of those things I was searching for at the time seem to have disappeared from my memory now. Is this the best use of my time?

In order to manage this I asked myself, what can I do? How can I prevent myself from wasting so much time? Here are some of my possible solutions.

The art of non-reactivity

In mindfulness circles, non-reactivity is the art of creating space between a trigger and your response. It’s the ability to not allow a stimulus to direct your actions to do something you don’t need to do right now. And it’s an awareness that allows you to observe and see what it is you really want.

The way I use this to my advantage is to keep my Evernote app open, and jot down those things I become curious about as I become curious about them. I write down either: the search terms I would look up at the moment or the question that I’m curious about, and then I get back to working on what I was originally working on.

I’ve found that many times I become curious when I’m smack dab in the middle of something. It may be while I’m at work, at home cleaning, reading a book, writing an article for Freethinkr.

This curiosity trigger takes me out of a focused mindset. Often, I give in to this curiosity. And this pulls me out of the deep work I was engaged on at the time.

Breaking “deep work”

Many thought leaders have argued that breaking “deep work” is detrimental to your success in getting work done effectively and efficiently. In his book “Deep Work,” Cal Newport states

“Efforts to deepen your focus will struggle if you don’t simultaneously wean your mind from dependence on distraction.”

He goes on to argue that individuals are poor at multitasking and that it results in people who are less productive and very ineffective. Newport supports this claim with information from Clifford Nass, a late Communications professor at Stanford. He found that constant switching of attention can have a lasting negative effect on your mind. He states:

“So we have scales that allow us to divide up people into people who multitask all the time and people who rarely do, and the differences are remarkable. People who multitask all the time can’t filter out irrelevancy. They can’t manage a working memory. They’re chronically distracted. They initiate much larger parts of their brain that are irrelevant to the task at hand…they’re pretty much mental wrecks.”

Applying this information

When I take a break from deep work, I take a few minutes to go through my list of questions and search the internet.

At the end of the day, I’ll look up all of those things I was curious about during the day.

You know what’s funny? Sometimes I’ll go through my list and think to myself “What was I thinking? Why did I care about that?”

But there are times where one of my curiosities was memorable or important, and I’m able to tackle those things with further clarity and focus.

It’s almost as though taking some time to let those ideas simmer will allow you to filter out what matters from what you were just using as a distraction to take you out of your focused work.

An excuse to escape

I’m guilty of using my curiosity as a distraction. When I take for a break from what I’m working on, I surf the web. But I don’t want to go on Facebook or ESPN or any other websites, so I used my curiosity as an excuse.

I’ll distract myself by going on Wikipedia and reading about the Roman emperors. Interesting? Yes. Necessary for me to know? Probably not.

How many times has this happened?

You’re in the middle of an article or paper or project that you are working on. You get to a tough point in your work. And a thought pops into your head. “How do cell phones really work?” Then, just like Alice, you go down the rabbit hole.

But this sort of thing is just as bad. It breaks concentration. And if I really want to get something done, I’ve learned that I need large uninterrupted chunks of time. All these curiosities do is break my concentration and flow.

So I take a break from what I’m working on and look it up. Just as things are getting difficult, I take a completely sideways tangent to escape from my work.

One thing I try to do is remind myself that those difficult times are when you need to push through the most. Those are when you have those moments of breakthrough. And if you really need a break, maybe you just need a mindfulness break.

An alternative to curiosity?

I’ve been making an effort to take more mindfulness breaks throughout my day. To me, this is about taking a few minutes to focus on myself.

A few minutes to bring awareness to my body and my mind. A few minutes to observe my thoughts. A few minutes to check in with my body and see how I’m feeling.

While on the surface this practice looks like I’m doing nothing from the outside, I actually find this practice extremely helpful for me for a couple of reasons:

  1. I’m getting away from what I’m doing. Sometimes, all I want is a short break.
  2. I’m taking a break to stop completely. I’m not spending time online. I’m getting away from the computer. (Sometimes just being on the computer itself can be a tiring exercise mentally.)

How else does mindfulness breaks help?

This practice also allows my subconscious to do some processing. Ernest Hemmingway always said, don’t go to bed without having a request from your subconscious. I try apply this to my thinking when I’m working on something.

Say I’m in the middle of writing this article and suddenly I get tired halfway through. I can take a mindfulness break and check in with how I’m feeling.

As a byproduct, my subconscious continues to work on whatever it was I was doing. And because I’m not filling my mind with other random information, I’m able to stay on task better.

I feel like this allows my brain to make connections that I wouldn’t normally make if I didn’t take a brief interlude.

One final thing is that this allows my brain to become bored. If you’ve ever tried meditation, you know that your mind begins to wander easily. By taking mindfulness breaks, my mind begins to wander, but it usually wanders to whatever the task at hand is.

So what’s the protocol?

Focus only on those curiosities that are important to you and help you achieve your goals.

Keep Evernote or other notetaking app or a pen and waiter pad nearby and jot down those things you are curious about.

Take mindfulness breaks every so often (for me it’s about every 10-15 minutes of work, on average) where you pause for one to two minutes and bring awareness to your body and how you are feeling. Because what you really want (or need) is a break.

These breaks helps you stay focused and on task. And they will allow you to get deep work done and accomplish more work in less time. This, in turn, (and ironically I might add) gives you more time to dive into those curiosities later since they aren’t interrupting the flow of your work.

Curiosity is a great trait to have. But don’t let it be a time suck like it has been for me. Get meaningful work done and address those curiosities later.

What are some tricks you’ve learned to manage your curiosities?

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How I use music as meditation to improve clarity and focus

How I use music as meditation to improve clarity and focus

Music is a powerful tool.

Humans are hard-wired to respond to music. Studies show music could help patients heal from Parkinson’s disease or stroke.

Meditation is also a powerful tool.

I’ve discussed the effect meditation has on myself. Meditation helps me focus and maintain present state awareness.

Jumping on a trend

So when Tim Ferriss wrote about how other’s use music as an external mantra, similar to Transcendental Meditation, my ears peaked up.

Tim Ferriss, host of a podcast with the same name, deconstructs leading experts and thought leaders, and provides actionable information for his listeners.

One piece of advice he has hit on with a number of his guests is the use of music as a mantra, if you will, to focus and become aware in the present moment. They do this by listening to one song or one album on repeat, while doing what they are skilled at doing.

This sort of use of music can be for anyone from Amelia Boone, three time winner of the World’s Toughest Mudder contest, to Matt Mullenweg, lead developer of WordPress.org.

Accelerating your flow state

According to Mullenweg, listening to the one song on repeat helps him get into flow states when he’s got a tough problem to tackle.

It helps him get into a state of hyper-focus and concentration. In a flow state, the sense of self is dissolved. You become immersed in your work and nothing around you seems to exist. You become one with what you are doing and nothing can get into your way.

Mullenweg says that music helps accelerate his entrance into these states of hyper-focus.

Joseph Mosby explored this idea as well. After hearing about it from Matt Mullenweg, he figured he would give it a shot for himself.

So, he got to work late one night when his brain was starting to fall asleep. He sat down to tackle some programming challenges that he had been working on.

So he put a playlist with a couple of songs on repeat to help him get into a focused state. He was shocked by the results.

It was effective. He found himself getting into flow faster than normal and cranked out his work without a second thought.

So why does this work?

It appears that repetition is the key. When you repeat something over and over, you tend to enjoy it more. This is what psychologists call the mere exposure effect.

People have a tendency to develop a preference for something just because they find it to be familiar. The repeated stimulus increase perceptual fluency, or the ease with which a stimulus is processed. This positive affect puts you into a good mood.

Not only that, but Elizabeth Margulis has done some research on music and its effects on the brain. Margulis, the author of On Repeat: How Music Plays the Mindstates that “Musical repetition gets us mentally imagining or singing through the bit we expect to come next.”

As a result of this anticipation, “A sense of shared subjectivity with the music can arise. In descriptions of their most intense experiences of music, people often talk about a sense that the boundary between the music and themselves has dissolved.”

That’s right, the boundary between music and yourself dissolves.

More on the dissolution of self

Dissolution of self is one thing that happens when you enter into a flow state. Not only does the boundary between yourself and music dissolve, but the boundary between yourself and your work dissolves when you are in flow.

Being a bit of a skeptic, I tried this out for myself last Friday at work.

“One more day until the weekend,” I thought to myself. Friday’s aren’t usually the most productive day of the week. I’m going through the motions, thinking about the weekend ahead.

I picked Debussy’s Claire De Lune as my first song, hit it up on Spotify and then went to work. I was in the zone. I listened to the song on repeat for about an hour straight.

My focus skyrocketed. I was cranking out work. Time slowed down to a crawl.

I was completing tasks more efficiently than normal. I couldn’t believe how much I got done after an hour!

After a solid hour of work, I took a short break and then got back to it.

This time I picked John Coltrane’s In a Sentimental Mood and proceeded to continue to crush it at work for the day.

I continued this cycle for the most part of work on Friday. By the time it was 2, I was only at work for 6 hours but I felt like I completed twice as much work.

This works great!

I tried this at home yesterday to motivate me to clean my room.

I had been putting off cleaning my closet for a solid month. So, I picked one song, and got to it.

I’ve also tried this while working out today at the gym. I tried it while going for a run. The results are stunning to say the least.

Not only does listening to the same song on repeat help me maintain focus and clarity, but it helps me stay present in the now. On top of that, it helps me crush my work.

More to come

While I haven’t tried this technique during meditation, I can certainly say that I have seen some positive effects in my on life in other areas by doing this.

From work to cleaning to working out to running to researching and writing this essay, these tasks were completed while listening to one song on repeat for an extended period of time.

As a matter of fact, I wrote this entire post in less than an hour, from researching to writing, on a Saturday afternoon, with the help of this technique.

Have you ever tried listening to the same song on repeat to get yourself into the zone? How did it make you feel? Would you be willing to try something like this? If so, let me know with a comment below!

Change your mental state by walking

Change your mental state by walking

I am a habitual walker. Everyone in my office knows that.

Around 7:30 am I get to work. I focus on the task at hand and get into flow until about 10 am. Then I take a break and step out of the office for a short 10 minute walk.

The time isn’t always the same, but one thing remains consistent: I make sure to get in my walk.

At 12 pm I take a break for lunch. After I finish eating I go for another short walk.

Then after another 2-3 hours I go for one last walk during the work day.

No matter where I am working or what is going on, I always find time to go for a walk.

I don’t care how busy things are or how crazy my bosses are, I make every effort I can to go for a walk and get my 10,000 steps in during the day.

It’s not always easy. Sometimes I have a deadline that I need to hit. Or I’m asked to help assist on another project. And I’ll go longer without taking a break. But I always find time for a walk.

Walking leads to focus

I credit walking with helping me focus better throughout the day. I’m more productive. Not only that, but I feel happier at work.

By the end day, while others are dragging ass and on their 3rd or 4th cup of coffee, I feel refreshed, focused, and as though I could continue working for another few hours if I have to (which I do sometimes).

I credit all of this to going for those short walks throughout the day.

I don’t walk because of the health benefits

I have a hard time sitting still. I like to get up and move. But when you work on the computer all day long, there aren’t many opportunities to this.

Many of my coworkers sit at their desk all day long without ever leaving the office. The only time they get up is to go to the bathroom, pick up something from the printer, or the heat up their lunch in the breakroom.

That’s not me. I need to get up. I need to move.

3 reasons to walk

Walking helps me reevaluate and focus on what matters

When I’m out in nature I focus better. I go out for a walk with thoughts or questions to ponder in my subconscious mind. When I go back to work, the answer I’ve been seeking suddenly comes to me.

Taking breaks throughout the day and changing the environment that helps my brain make connections that I wouldn’t otherwise make.

Have you ever noticed that sometimes you’re thinking about a problem before you go to bed, and then in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning the answer comes to you? That’s what happens when I go out for a walk. Answers seem to appear.

It is meditative

I’ve mentioned this in a prior article, but for me going for a walk can be very calming and meditative.

When I go for a walk I use it as an opportunity to focus and become mindful of the world around me.

When I walk out the door the first thing I notice is the sidewalk and all of the cracks and the plants growing in between some of those cracks.

I look up to the sky and notice if there are clouds. What are they shaped like? Does it look like it will rain today?

I look around at the trees and other features in the landscape around me. There is usually just grass and shrubs. But, every once in a while, there is a beautiful flower or unique looking plant.

Then my mind shifts to the buildings and the cars around me. I think about all of the other people out there. I wonder what they are up to and where they are going.

By the end of my walk, I am mindful and relaxed, just observing the world around me. It’s a great opportunity to reset your brain, recharge, and get ready to put in another few hours of work.

Best of all, walking is natural, easy, and free.

You don’t need a gym membership to go for a walk. You experience half the impact on your bones and joints than if you were to go for a run. And most people are capable of going out for a walk on a regular basis.

In fact, in a study published in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, regular walkers could actually be healthier than runners.

Risks for hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, and heart disease drop significantly in walkers as compared to runners.

This could be due to the fact that chronic running could lead to over training and inadequate recovery time, which could make you susceptible to overtraining, injury and illness.

In summary

Walking has made me more productive, relaxed, and happier.

Give it a shot! Using a fitness tracker or any number of free apps on your phone, try to get in 10,000 steps per day and see how it affects you.

Do you enjoy going for walks throughout the day? What benefits do you notice when you go for a 20 minute walk?

Why I experiment with experimenting

Why I experiment with experimenting

I don’t enjoy being wrong. Because of this fear, I sometimes avoid doing things that I should do. I look at things as a success or failure without other consideration.

I’m working on fixing this. How? Self-experimentation.

How Have I Used Self-experimentation?

One case is the ecommerce business I’m working on.

When I started, I wanted the right product. I didn’t want to strike out and risk losing thousands of dollars.

So I tried something. I wouldn’t commit myself to a product early on. Instead, I looked at what I was doing as an experiment.

My experiment was to test out one product. Only after testing would I make a decision on whether it was worth selling.

Hypothesis

I will sell one unit per day without any advertising or promotion.

Procedure

First things first: I identified what the first product I would test was. Next, I needed to find a supplier that allowed me to place a small initial order.

Once I found one, I bought 20 units and waited two weeks to receive them in the mail. Once I received those 20 units, I put them up for sale on Amazon. A week went by with zero sales. I assumed this experiment failed…

On day 8 I received my first order. After which, I continued to sell one unit per day until I was completely sold out.

Now I had a decision to make.

Conclusion

I got the result I was hoping, but it took a little longer than expected. What should I do?

I knew this was a product that would sell consistently. People seem to want it, and there isn’t a ton of competition.

I deliberated for three weeks. I was so nervous about making a large investment in a big order. But this experiment made my decision a little easier.

Based off my results, I felt slightly more comfortable and took a leap of faith and purchased of 500 units. (This was not easy for me to do!)

Since then

I sell approximately 3-4 per day. Revenues were in excess of $3,600 in month one. Month two, over $4,000. Not too shabby.

And I continue to experiment with different aspects of online sales.

I experiment with various advertising methods, prices, and product descriptions.

By performing self-experimentation, I am able to eliminate certain biases.

How So?

In self-experimentation you commit yourself for a set period of time, say two weeks. At the end of the trial period, you evaluate results and see if they are in line with your hypothesis.

Then you make a judgment call to continue on or stop.

What is great about self-experimentation is that if you do it right, you maintain a non-judgmental and also non-biased view of your experiment.

In the end, there is no commitment since you had a defined period from the beginning.

A shift in thinking

Self-experimentation has shifted my mindset. Instead of looking at things as a success or failure, I have a more objective view.

I’m trying look at everything in my life as an experiment.

Tweaking Things

Another great aspect of self-experimentation is that you can tweak assumptions, test different hypothesis, and track results.

Let’s say you’re a guy and you want to get better at talking to girls (or vice versa).

You can test out different opening lines with a random person at the bar, and evaluate your results.

You could start by making an opening question about what someone is wearing. Gauge their reaction. If it’s positive, this is something that you could continue to use. If it’s negative, try something else.

Experimenting allows you to detach yourself from the result. It requires you to become more aware of the world around you.

Awareness

If you want to lose weight, test out certain diets in trial periods. Try the Atkins diet for one month. If you like the way you feel, continue. If you don’t, try a vegan diet. See how you feel. If that doesn’t work, try the paleo diet.

The key is to evaluate how you feel and the progress you make.

My Little Experiment

I was getting heartburn all the time. So I experimented with cutting down on coffee. I limited myself one cup in the morning (no more 2 PM caffeine boosts!). This helped a little bit.

Then I experimented with cutting down on dairy and other foods. My heartburn went down even more.

By self-experimenting, I was able to determine the root cause of my heartburn. As a result, I don’t need to go to the doctor and get prescribed some prescription medication that would only cover up the real problem.

My encouragement

Here’s a suggestion to you: experiment with self-experimentation. Test out something you’ve been thinking about for a while. Develop a hypothesis or expectation. Determine the test period, and track your results and form a conclusion. You may just be surprised by what you find.

Have you tried self-experimentation? What have you tested out yourself? What advice do you have for someone interested in self-experimentation?