Don’t worry about long-term plans

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Long term plans are tough, mostly because we don’t know the future. If you’ve got a 20-year long term goal that’s great, but it’s probably not going to happen, at least not the way you planned; who knows what will happen in the next 20 years? It’s not bad to set long goals if only to set you in a direction, but don’t marry those goals, don’t die on their hills, don’t forsake all other paths or options. People achieve success more often by focusing on what’s right in front of them. It’s called short term planning. When an opportunity arises you make a decision, you work hard at the work in front of you, you make plans for things that are actionable and semi-immediate. Success tends to favor those who, instead of working backward from a goal in the future, make a decision based on the currently available options which will give them the best range of options in the future. They actually keep their options open. It’s a different perspective, instead of an early determination to go all out in one direction or after one thing, you can take things as they come. You’ll obviously still work hard and make good decisions when options present themselves, but you don’t have to sell out for a long term goal. Don’t worry about the next 20 years, worry about the week, the day, the hour in front of you, and make the most of it.

iPad Pro vs Mac: The Focus Question

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Macs are great devices, they’re capable, they’re powerful, they’re reliable, they even look nice. A large swath of the population relies on their Macs daily to be productive. Steve Jobs famously equated desktop operating machines to trucks, full of power and function.

iPads are also great, but for different reasons and different purposes. The iPad, for most of its existence, has been seen as a consumption machine, but the release of iPad Pro and more recently, iPadOS, the understanding of the iPad has expanded to include creative and productive tasks. When Jobs equated computers with trucks he also equated mobile operating machines (iPads) with cars. As a society/economy evolves, fewer people need the power and function of a truck, or a full desktop computer, opting instead for a less power-hungry, easier to use, mobile operating machine.

This is a helpful comparison between the two types of devices, but I think the iPad vs Mac discussion goes deeper than a distinction in functionality.

iPad-as-a-computer-replacement discussions seem to generate significant traffic in online discussions and forums. I’ve read through countless articles and comment sections weighing the pro’s and con’s myself. As far as I can tell, many people would love to use the iPad as their primary productivity tool but are held back by questions of functionality. Can the iPad really handle all of my computing needs? Will the sacrifice in function be worth the trade-off in form? These were my questions as well. Previously, when I purchased an iPad Pro I thought about it as an all-or-nothing endeavor, either I would cut ties with macOS and use the iPad Pro exclusively, or I would get rid of the iPad Pro and stick with my MacBook. Either the iPad Pro could be a computer replacement or it couldn’t. More than once, I ended up frustrated with the function of the iPad Pro and went back to using a MacBook after a few weeks. I was thinking about the iPad Pro as a MacBook, and since it didn’t perform as well as a MacBook in a MacBook workflow, it felt inadequate. The question was never about the purpose of the device, it was about the raw functionality it offered. The problem with this line of thinking is that raw functionality is not the most important correlate to effectiveness. The function question isn’t the only question, maybe not even the most important question, when thinking about tools and productivity.

Productivity tools exist on a spectrum between function and focus. In order to enhance focus (and effectiveness), it can actually be helpful to give up some function. We think about tools and devices almost entirely as a form of function. Which tool is most capable of performing the tasks I need, or might need, to complete? Because of this, it makes sense that we talk about how the keyboard feels, the power of the processor, the capability of the OS, and the amount of RAM or storage that would best support our use case. Those things aren’t bad, but what we neglect almost entirely is how the tools correlate with our focus, which is arguably more important. We don’t ask how well we’re managing all of the function. Are we distracted by the multitasking capabilities? Have we spent too much time off task? Is all the function actually causing a decrease in our output? Are we burning through diesel gas driving around town? Desktop operating systems by nature offer as much function as possible, and that’s not a bad thing, sometimes we need a truck-type computer to accomplish specialized or complex tasks. But instead of only asking the function question, it’s important to also consider the focus question.

I’m really good at wasting time on a Mac. It happens automatically. All I have to do is turn on the machine, then those floating windows pop up, I see red dots in my dock, a bunch of open browser tabs catch my eye, suddenly I’m clicking links, reading stories, remembering something I wanted to check on, it’s like my mind falls into a state of hyper distraction. And then an hour has gone by, I’ve made no progress on the things that are most important to me, and I’m stressed. I’ll admit, this could be an issue unique to me, and there are ways to clamp down on the distractions of a desktop OS. If nothing else, take this as an exhortation to think about the relationship between your tool and your focus. For me, it has been helpful to use a different type of OS, one that’s not designed for multitasking, one that doesn’t encourage hypnotic attention deficit, one that leans toward the focus end of the spectrum. The iPad Pro limits multitasking, it does away with floating windows, it hides the dock automatically, and it forces the user to attend to one thing at a time. In fact, one of the most annoying things about using an iPad Pro is the friction involved with switching apps and tasks, all those taps and drags. It’s also simply harder to do some things on the iPad Pro, like manage files or build a spreadsheet. Those things may seem problematic on the surface, but when I think about the amount of time I waste task switching and managing files, and the relative unimportance of those things, the tradeoffs don’t seem quite so severe. It’s hard to quantify all of the differences between working from a Mac and working from an iPad Pro, but I know that my mind is more calm and less distracted with an iPad Pro, I know an iPad Pro encourages me to spend much more time on the more important parts of my work. The tool enhances, rather than hampers, my focus and effectiveness. The iPad Pro isn’t the most functional machine you can buy (though it’s come a long way in the last few years), but that very fact is what enables it to strike a balance between function and focus that could have vast implications for your effectiveness, and your stress level.

I’m not saying you have to buy an iPad Pro to be more effective, I’m not even saying that I’ll never buy a MacBook again, but for me, for now, the iPad Pro better accounts for my human weakness and allows me to be more effective by sacrificing some function to enhance focus. If you’re only asking the function question an iPad Pro will probably be found lacking, you can do more things faster on a Mac. But ask the focus question, that’s where the iPad Pro shines. Previously, I tried to use an iPad Pro for productivity because I wanted a better computer. But the iPad Pro is not a better computer, it’s a totally different productivity tool.

Reading takes less time than you think

 

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If you’re anything like me, burning half of an hour online is second nature, it happens without a thought. I pull out my phone or open up my computer and bounce from website to website, check the news, adjust my fantasy football lineup, clear a few emails, delve into a twitter trend (or 3), and the time evaporates. It’s shocking the amount of reading I can do simply by opening a book before I open my computer. And all you have to give up is some artificial dopamine inducing frenetic blue screen time. You can easily read a half-hour per day (and probably more) without making any real concessions. Start with 10 minutes. Start with a book that’s short or easy to read. Just open the book before you turn on your screen.

Sell like you’re talking to your friends

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Selling, especially to my millennial preferences, is abhorrent. I don’t like to be sold to and  I absolutely hate selling something myself. The coercive attempt to make someone do something they seemingly would rather not too is like the sound of nails on a chalkboard. But here’s the thing, we’re all selling in some way or another all the time, even those of us who think we hate it. We recommend movies, albums, restaurants, products, apps, you name it. We invite others to hang out, to join our fantasy league, to participate is some experience. We even apply peer pressure when we really want someone to do something, and with no shame! The selling is constant. So why would someone like me (I know I’m not alone) hate the idea of selling while simultaneously recruiting, recommending, and even coercing?

Here’s the important distinguisher, we do all of this selling to our friends. We do it (usually) because we care about them and we want them to experience some of the joy or convenience that we’ve received from some experience or product. We’re even comfortable applying some pressure to help them see the light.

In work, we’re typically dealing with acquaintances at best and downright strangers at worst. Selling in that context is terrifying. But I heard something recently that made a huge difference to my perspective: instead of selling to people, treat them like friends. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend something that I believe in to a friend, regardless of whether or not I get paid if or when they purchase. I would explain it to them without any awkward, cold sweat-inducing, manipulative selling techniques, I would give it to them straight and try to help them see the light. They can still say no, obviously, but at least it won’t be because I tried to sell them something.

Reframing

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Personal change is not caused by will-power. There are many components to effective change, but an important one, and one I want to dig into a bit here, is reframing. I came across some of these ideas in Alan Deutschman’s excellent work Change or Die.

Reframing is a change in occurrence, it’s a different way of seeing and thinking, and it’s foundational to any real personal change. Unfortunately, humans are really bad at reframing on our own, in fact, we tend to become more entrenched in our thinking as we grow older.

Through the incredible story of Delancey Street Foundation, a sort of residential rehabilitation institution employing what looks much more like coaching than therapy, Deutschman introduces a concept he calls ‘acting as if:’

It’s obvious that what we believe and what we feel influences how we act. That’s common sense. But the equation works in the other direction as well: how we act influences what we believe and what we feel. That’s one of the most counterintuitive yet powerful principles of modern psychology (P78).

At Delancey Street, constituents are not required to undergo any intensive therapy or high octane educational course, they’re required to act like functioning members of society. The simple practice of acting decent creates an entirely new framework for them.

Deutschman notes that reframing can’t happen simply by listening to a person explain a new perspective. Our frames have been embedded in us through repeated experiences over time, which is part of the reason it becomes more difficult to reframe as we get older. In order to reframe, new experiences are required, “you have to do things a new way before you can think a new way” (P79). When you do things a new way a whole new world of possibilities begins to emerge, you realize that things, or you yourself, could actually be different.

So if there’s something you’re trying to do or change, figure out what normal daily practices you’ll need to commit to (example: if you want to lose weight you should diet and exercise), and just try doing it. It’s certainly not the whole equation, your problems won’t be magically solved, but start by acting, you might be surprised what you find.