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Forge
A publication from Medium on personal development.

Productivity

In Forge. More on Medium.

I’d be mortified if anyone read my daily tasks from the past year

Photo: Grace Cary/Getty Images

A lot of people despise the tyrannical, never-ending nature of to-do lists. I am not one of them. To-do lists have always imbued a sense of order into my world. To-do lists keep track of things I can’t. In my life, to-do lists are a friend, not a foe.

About a year ago, I switched back to a paper and pen to write my daily list. Life in pandemic shutdown was simply too overwhelming and too dominated by screens to continue using my phone’s Notes app to keep track of each bizarre day. …


Understanding the distinction is the first step to managing your time

Photo: Alistair Berg/Getty Images

Because I write about distraction and how to avoid it, I often get asked the question “Aren’t distractions sometimes a good thing? Don’t we all need some distraction in our lives?”

Nope!

Distractions are always bad. Period. Diversions, on the other hand, can be good. This isn’t just hair-splitting: The two concepts are fundamentally different, and if you want to use your time productively, you need to understand the important distinction between them.

As I explain in my book Indistractable, distraction is an action that pulls you away from what you intended to do.

Distraction prevents you from living out…


🎾 Today’s tip: Watch a TV show or tennis match to borrow a productivity boost.

Feeling hopelessly stuck in a rut? The good news is, you don’t need to pull yourself out. Let someone else motivate you instead.

As Lauren Allain explains in Forge: “When my productivity dwindles, I watch Survivor, Alone, The Amazing Race, or an epic sports event — and watch my productivity and motivation skyrocket.” After watching someone else perform difficult-to-impossible physical and mental feats, “replying to my pile of unread emails seems much more manageable.” Finishing that nagging memo is harder than doing nothing, but it’s…


😴 Today’s tip: Take a 10-minute nap.

Naps. We love them, we yearn for them, we strive to sneak them in whenever possible. And it turns out there is an optimal amount of time that an afternoon snooze should last. On Medium, Michael Hunter, MD, writes about an Australian study that had different groups of participants nap for 5, 10, 20, and 30 minutes. Ultimately, researchers suggested that 10 minutes was “the most effective afternoon nap duration,” Hunter explains. So nap away — it’ll do your body and brain some good. Just make sure to set an alarm.

🛌 More…


Today’s tip: Time out your morning routine.

In her fun (and foul-mouthed) No F*cks Given podcast, Sarah Knight offers a solution to chronic lateness that’s shockingly simple: 1) Identify when you are most prone to lateness and rushing—for most people, this is the morning. 2) Time how long it takes you to do all the things (in the morning, maybe this includes showering, making coffee, and then either commuting or shuffling over to your couch). 3) Time it again the next day, and the next.

Voila, now you know how much time you really, actually need. Allow yourself that…


📱Today’s tip: Put away your smartphone during your meetings.

The Medium family recently welcomed a new addition: Index, a publication all about work. In one of the site’s inaugural posts, Hannah Clark Steiman writes about the mysterious way video meetings seem to be even more exhausting than in-person meetings ever were. The reason? Our brains can’t handle all the multitasking we think we’re capable of doing. On video chats, we either try to multitask or we mentally work to resist multitasking, which is just as hard on our brains.

Here’s one easy fix: Put your smartphone away. Studies have shown


A lesson from the pope (sort of) that taught me how to understand everything better

Photo: Jorge Zapata/Unsplash

I was working at Esquire magazine a little over a decade ago when I received an incredibly valuable lesson about learning and research. A senior editor gave us interns an assignment to find out how much money the pope makes. We interviewed some Catholic academics and historians at big-name universities who gave us their best estimates, and then submitted our research file.

Our editor took one look at the file and pulled us all into the conference room. “Guys, no,” he said, shaking his head. “You call the fucking Vatican.”

“Call the fucking Vatican.” In the years since, it’s become…


Researchers have found that our thoughts and choices can be transformed by physical interaction with objects

Photo: MirageC/Getty Images

At some point, I subconsciously decided that “open computer” equals “working.” So each morning, that’s what I do: flip open my laptop and get to work. Or rather, I try to work. The problem is, I often find myself thinking in circles, returning to my inbox, or feeling totally stuck.

The reality is that the computer is a sad tool for human ideation, one that pales in comparison to the infinite workspace of the real, three-dimensional world. To come up with more ideas, better ideas, and engage with thoughts more deeply, we need to work with our hands. This instinct…


A counterintuitive strategy for getting back on track

Photo: Nisian Hughes/Getty Images

Surely I’m not the only one who has found it difficult to focus and work efficiently recently, by which I mean for the past year or so. But I’ve also discovered an unexpected trick for getting work done in difficult times: You don’t need to find your own productivity if you can borrow it from someone else.

I’m not talking about some kind of dark magic where I transfer my procrastination to others. The alchemy I mean is the burst of energy I can get simply from watching TV. …


First, you have to dare to be bad at something

A person playing an acoustic guitar on a stage
A person playing an acoustic guitar on a stage
Photo: Prapass Pulsub / Getty Images

I was getting a coffee with a talented, accomplished friend when he dropped a conversational bomb. He looked out the window and said, “The image I’ve carried around since I was very young is this other version of me, who’s not necessarily perfect, but who’s my ideal… the more successful, more productive, more socially well-adjusted, more, you know, everything. More confident version of me. It is me, but I’m behind several screens or something, and I can’t seem to get through.”

Many of us have an alternate-reality self we wish we could be. The most striking thing about my friend’s…

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