Some people seem to be born knowing what they want out of life.
They have their career picked out before they’re out of high school, they have a plan for exactly the family life they want, they know exactly how they want to be spending their days.
Most of us are not that lucky.
Most people wind up rolling into adulthood a little lost. Maybe you never knew what you really wanted to do and have cruising along waiting for it to come to you but it hasn’t. Maybe you thought you knew what you wanted only to find, four years of university education later, that you were wrong – and now you feel trapped in a career you don’t enjoy. Whatever the reason, it’s not uncommon to find people who feel like they don’t have any real purpose in life.
If that’s the case, it’s time to start figuring one out.
We talk a lot about productivity on here for two primary reasons – the first is we have a lot of projects we’re passionate about and if we didn’t have a strong interest in productivity ourselves none of them would ever get done, and the second is everyone always wants to be more productive. It’s one of those areas that everyone uniformly wants but struggles with.
While there are a lot of things you can do to increase your productivity it can be easy to get bogged down in the little things. Apps, complicated organizational or notebook systems, specialized methods like timeboxing, and things of that nature all seem cool and exciting.
The problem is when you worry too much about that sort of thing it’s easy to completely ignore the stuff that doesn’t seem as cool – and that’s the stuff that’s actually going to help the most.
We create a lot of things.
Caroline and I write all the non-fiction content for this site, we produce our own fiction writing, we record a podcast, I draw a webcomic, she does freelance webdesign work, the list goes on. As a result a question we get asked a lot by friends is how in the world we manage to come up with ideas for everything.
Being creative isn’t a talent or something magical, it just comes down to having the right kind of processes and systems to keep things rolling. Here’s the basic system we follow that helps us keep the creative ideas flowing.
NaNoWriMo is a big part of our November every year. A lot of planning and prep work goes into setting everything up, blocking out enough of our schedules for extra writing time, warning friends and family that we might not be heard from for little chunks through the month while we hunker down to catch up on word counts, and then even more time in November gets devoted to the actual writing part.
By the end of each November though, we each have a complete novel of at least 50,000 words.
That’s a fairly big accomplishment in a fairly small time table, and it’s all thanks to how NaNoWriMo itself works. With the new year approaching I thought we could look at some ways you can apply that system to other things you’ve been wanting to get done for a long while.
One of the things that I’ve noticed about speaking several languages is that when people I meet for the first time find out a huge majority of them make some kind of excuse for why they don’t.
They say they wish they could learn another language but they’re too old now, or they don’t have the time or money, or they wish they had my talent for languages, and so on. None of these are valid reasons for not learning a second language if it’s something you really want to do. When you repeat these excuses to yourself it just internalizes this self-fulfilling narrative that you can’t do it. That you’ll never successfully learn a new language.
Here’s why you’re wrong.
It’s easy to look at someone who is clearly one of the best in the world at what they do and assume that they got to be that way because they had some kind of natural talent for it. While natural talent might skew things a little, we almost always find out in reality these people put in countless hours grinding away practicing and honing their skill set to get to that level.
The easy assumption then is that if you just show up and put your hours in you can become great at something too, but often that’s just not the case. It’s not enough to just show up and mindlessly put your reps in.
You need to practice with intent.
As someone who spends a lot of time thinking about productivity and efficiency and getting a lot of things done everyday, you would think that I would be someone who really likes goals. In reality – I sort of hate them.
For a lot of people goals hurt more than they help when it comes to accomplishing things.
So why do I hate goals so much, and what do I recommend using instead that works so much better?
People don’t usually like to have themselves limited. We like to be free, to have lots of options, for there to be no constraints on what we can do. The motivating factor behind a lot of people’s decision to chase financial independence through entrepreneurship or self-employment is specifically to have more control over their schedules, choices, and life. Constraints are bad.
Or are they?
Like so many things limits and restrictions don’t have to be bad thing if you can find a way to use them to your advantage. When you do they can act as a powerful motivational tool, creativity booster, and more.
For some people learning new things is just harder than it is for other people. They struggle to pick up things that they see other excel at easily. They fail to acquire skills even though they feel like they’ve given their best. Put simply, they suck at learning.
As it turns out, the reason things are so much harder for them than others might be entirely in their head – and it’s something that can be fixed.
Monkey Mind – the inability to keep unwanted thoughts from popping in and distracting you from what you need to focus on as though your head was full of drunken, manic monkeys – is a pervasive and crippling problem.
It can keep you from working, keep you awake when you need to sleep, and fill you with anxieties and doubts over inconsequential things. Thankfully there are a handful of things you can do to combat Monkey Mind and to get yourself back to a state of quiet, productive focus. The best part is most of them only take a minute or two of your time.