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newsletters productivity writing

The Shift: Build your writing habit🧠

‘Bye honey, have a great day. Love you.’ 

Then I sit down and write for two hours. Half an hour of free writing to get me going, then on to Google Docs. I’ve made it a ritual – Moka pot, scented candle, flight mode, and trained my brain to associate the time and place with writing. It’s a daily habit that requires no thinking, and it’s helped me publish 12 books and a newsletter every week for the last year.

I try to approach it as a time for me to learn and reflect rather than stressing about it. And focus on what I can control: my daily habits and routines. 

Fascinating article on Barack Obama’s habits and how the daily routines saved him from going mad when he was president. It’s all about removing day to day problems. ‘You’ll see I wear only grey or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down my decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.’ The act of making decisions degrades your ability to make further decisions. ‘You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.’ 

Reading that has made me feel more relaxed about eating granola for breakfast every day and my ‘work wardrobe’ (is it lazy to wear loungewear 24/7? I rotate cardigans for Zooms). No. I’m embracing minimalism, and it’s strategic – I’m habit stacking! Training me to get OUT at lunchtime and there’s less friction. All I need to do is pull my trainers on, and off I go. I’m shopping online at Tesco, buying clothes from Whistles and hair products from Kerastase (fuck it, they work). Making things routine frees up mental energy for the important stuff. 

In 1887 William James wrote a short book on the psychology and philosophy of habit (Internet Archive). He argued that the ‘great thing’ in education is to ‘make our nervous system our ally instead of our enemy. The more of the details of our daily life we can hand over to the effortless custody of automatism, the more our higher powers of mind will be set free for their own proper work.’ 

He shares his three maxims to successfully form new habits – the first one: launching a solid initiative and making a public pledge. Simple, powerful ideas that live on in bestselling business books like Richard Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and James Clear’s Atomic Habits. And the #Ship30for30 Atomic Essays (build a writing habit in 30 days) have taken Twitter by storm.

Research shows habits can help your productivity. Dr Robert Boice studied productive vs non-productive faculty writers and found productive ones had shared habits, which ‘included working patiently and regularly; writing with stable and calm emotions; feeling less uncertainty and pain, a greater sense of fun and discovery, and welcoming criticism. Successful writers were more likely to write regularly for short periods than “bingeing” with long, infrequent sessions.

He emphasises the importance of lack of self-consciousness and that you should write without feeling ready. ‘Keep a nonjudgmental attitude about your writing, and approach writing not as a painful necessity but as a time to relax, reflect, and be calm.’ And form or join a peer writing group. 

So I’ve signed up for the next #Ship30for30 cohort in August. Let’s see if it helps with the things I’m struggling with: over-research and over-editing. I’ll be setting sail on 9 August if you want to join me (my code here). Massimo Curatella has written some brilliant essays on what he’s learned – One Year Writing: 30 lessons in 30 days.

I’m challenging myself to write one Quora answer daily for a year. Taking whatever I’ve learned that day at work as inspiration. It’s not about being an ‘expert’ in a niche but sharing stories and life lessons that are relatable, universal and entertaining – as so many Quora answers are. I get a lot from it, so it’s good to give back.

What’s your writing process? Any helpful habits, tools or resources? 

No newsletter next week as I’m full time on the app project, but I’ll be on Twitter. If you’ve published something, send me the link, and I’ll share it.

I’m going to write something on community polyamory as I’m struggling with that. I’m in so many incredible communities and not enough time in the day so I need to choose three to focus my energies on. I’d love to know how you manage and make the most of your online networks.


More rituals… I have my lucky shirt on for tonight to go with Gareth’s lucky spotted tie. Doesn’t he look sharp in those summer knits (Percival – young English company, made in Tottenham). Great management style – checking in on every player before a match, and seeking advice outside of the field.

‘It’s God, family and calcio’ – here’s to all the Italian mothers who have sacrificed so much to allow their sons to pursue their careers🥂 ⚽️


5 things🖐

✍️Anne-Laure has published 300 articles on Ness Labs. Enjoyed this one on how to build a better writing habit. Great advice on seeing it as a conversation starter rather than something that needs to be polished and perfect. Approaching writing as a startup: write, publish, iterate, feedback. Content, courses, coaching, community to help you put your mind to work – it’s well worth the small fee to join (increasing soon).

🧘🏻‍♀️Buster Benson, the founder of 750words.com, on the benefits of meditation and why he thinks free writing is better. The value of shutting down your neocortex and its relationship to creativity and flow, and how to do it. 750words is an online journaling tool and community. If you’re frustrated with meditation and haven’t tried free writing in this way, give it a go. Get to know yourself better.

💻Finally, an upgrade to Google Workspace. Pageless view, emojis, and dynamic documents. You can create polls, assign tasks via @mentions, and present docs directly to a meeting. I used it this week with a client and it saved us time. The big pop-up box on my screen requesting a call made me jump. I’m using Google Keep for notes, Scholar for research, Writing Habit + SEO Assistant. The all-in-one workspace.

📚Timeless Advice on Writing: The Collected Wisdom of Great Writers. Maria Popova (Brain Pickings) periodically updates this reading list of famous writing advice, featuring words of wisdom from masters of the craft such as Kurt Vonnegut, Susan Sontag, Henry Miller, Stephen King, F Scott Fitzgerald, George Orwell, Ernest Hemingway, Joan Didion, and more. Enjoy!

📝Paul Graham on How To Work Hard. I love how people drop everything to read his essays. ‘There are three ingredients in great work: Natural ability, practice, and effort.’ Learn not to lie to yourself, procrastinate, get distracted, or give up when things go wrong. ‘I can’t be sure I’m getting anywhere when I’m working hard, but I can be sure I’m getting nowhere when I’m not, and it feels awful.’ Printing it out for Julieta to read. Love the basic HTML. At its heart, web design should be all about words.


The future of work is now

Let’s build it. The Shift is a newsletter about humans, technology and wellness. Rethinking how we live, work + play. Weeklyish curated tools for thought and ideas to share✍️

Question or comment? nicci@niccitalbot.io
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Discover something new in my bookshop

To offset the carbon emissions of this newsletter and my online work, I plant 12 trees every month via Ecologi. I encourage you to do the same in your country – here’s a list of climate action groups. We’ve got 10 years to sort this out – no time to waste🌍

Categories
future of work remote working Social media technology

🕵🏻‍♀️A World Without Email

A World Without Email Reimagining Work in the Age of Overload (or the hyperactive hive mind

Email is making us miserable. By trying to be more efficient, we’ve accidentally deployed an inhumane way to work.

Cal Newport

Thinking big 💡

I have a love-hate relation with email. Love the convenience of it as a messaging tool but hate stuff piling up and having to go through it all. 

6083 in my personal Gmail account 😱 

Over half the world population uses email in 2021. The total number of business and personal emails sent and received per day will exceed 319 billion in 2021 and is forecast to grow to over 376 billion by 2025. Despite the growth of chat apps, we still use email, and you need an email address for most online activity. I spend most of my day in work inboxes – it’s where the magic happens – sign off, editing, documents because it’s faster and in real-time—the ping-pong game…like a slot machine. 

The overall feeling is low-level anxiety like my work is never done.

  • We check our emails every six minutes 
  • Knowledge workers receive and send an average of 126 emails every day 
  • We spend an average of three hours a day on email

A growing body of research on the effect of email suggests banning or putting restrictions on email can dramatically increase individual productivity and reduce stress. Companies have also taken action to reverse the trend. Thierry Breton, CEO of the French information tech company, Atos Origin, noticed his employees were distracted by constant emails, so he took steps to eliminate what he saw as adverse effects on productivity. In 2011, he announced he was banning email and wanted Atos to be a ‘zero email company within three years. 

We are producing data on a massive scale that is fast polluting our working environments and also encroaching into our personal lives. We are taking action now to reverse this trend, just as organisations took measures to reduce environmental pollution after the industrial revolution.

Thierry Breton, CEO, Atos Origin

The solution was not to ban electronic communication outright for over 70,000 employees; instead, they built a social network organised around 7,500 open communities working on collaborative projects. Atos hasn’t got rid of email entirely but reduced it by 60%, increasing their margins and reducing administrative costs. 

The movement to protect leisure time is gaining ground. The EU parliament voted massively in favour last month of a resolution calling on the European Commission to propose a law allowing digital workers the ‘right to disconnect’ outside of work to reduce burnout. Research shows people who work from home are more than twice as likely to surpass the maximum of 48 working hours per week. And we’re putting in more hours since Covid – two a day on average.

A World Without Email: Reimagining Work in the Age of Overload

Penguin Books

Last Friday, The New Yorker published an excerpt from Cal Newport’s new book, A World Without Email. Cal, aka Mr Deep Work, is a Professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University and the New York Times Bestselling author of seven books. 

The chapter focuses on an aspect of overload culture that isn’t talked about much – that email is making us miserable. The more time we spend emailing, the less happy and more stressed we become. What makes this a game-changer is that Cal is putting the onus on companies to make top-down changes rather than focusing on the individual as per earlier books. As Peter Drucker said back in the 70s, knowledge workers are autonomous, but only to a point.

As a freelancer, you can create your own systems and habits to manage information, but it’s not going to make much difference if your clients don’t work in the same way. 

The hyperactive hivemind 

Our workplaces are set up for convenience, not for getting the best out of us. We must be switched on to multitask with knowledge work, which doesn’t fit in with creative, deep thinking. Neuroscientists tell us our attention is single-tasked, and it’s not productive to switch from one task to another. This is making us miserable. 

It mismatches with the social circuits in our brain. It makes us feel bad that someone is waiting for us to reply to them. It makes us anxious.

Cal Newport

Cal describes this workstyle as the ‘hyperactive hivemind’ based around unstructured communications via email and IM and meetings that dominate our day. Email is fine for short communications as intended, but it’s a terrible knowledge management system. 

How do we tackle the hivemind and do our best work?

Cal says we need a more linear approach to workflow. Doing one task at a time to allow the brain to switch contexts – with fewer interruptions from email & IM. One study found (via BBC Worklifeon average, it takes us 23 minutes and 15 seconds to regain a deep focus after an interruption

We can learn a lot from how software engineers operate – extreme programming, Scrum & Agile methodologies. Working on one product for a period of time and giving it your whole focus. A more intense, shorter day of deep work with no ad hoc tasks works better with how our brain operates. Try applying Sprint methodology to your creative work – pitches, ideas. 

Work on the productivity of the knowledge worker has barely begun. Globally, the world has more than 1 billion knowledge workers, so we’re well overdue for a rethink & revolution.

It’s coming!!

The next five years will see an insane amount of change and we’ll be embarrassed that we opted for ease over efficiency with email. There’s a lot of interest in getting rid of the hyperactive hivemind to produce higher quality products and services because money and productivity are on the line.

Companies that require their workers to be ever wired and working on multiple tasks will fall behind companies that prioritise more in-depth, slow creative work.

It’s a radical and bold vision – a world without email – that could make you happier and more productive. As Caroline Sauvajol-Rialland, the author of Infobesity, says, information overload is a cultural crisis.

There’s this great challenge of lundimanche that we must tackle, – the French portmanteau word for the blurring of Sunday into Monday. 

Caroline Sauvajol-Rialland

It’s time to change how we communicate at work. 

The advice 🤔

  • Use Calendly instead of emails to arrange meetings to reduce the back-and-forth comms.
  • Use shared project management tools like Trello, Dropbox or Flow to organise tasks and share links so your team know what you’re working on, can see status updates and add comments – it reduces the pressure on your inbox. 
  • Basecamp has ‘Office Hours’ – if someone has a technical question for a given expert, he or she can’t shoot an email and has to wait until the expert’s next office hours to ask a question.
  • Get rid of personal email addresses and have a team/project email so everyone can respond. 
  • Try Scrum/Agile methodology – combines working in intense sprints (1-4-week projects) with daily 15-minute standing meetings to get things done. Everyone gets a chance to speak and ask for help. Pin coloured notes to a board to show commitments, so there’s no ambiguity.

If it works for 12+ million software developers…

Go deeper 🕵🏻‍♀️

🎧 The James Altucher Show – A World Without Email with Cal Newport.

💻 The New Yorker: Email is Making Us Miserable and The Rise and Fall of Getting Things Done.

📹 LinkedIn Live: Journey Further Book Club with Cal Newport – A World Without Email, March 16. 

📚 Under New Management by David Burkus – the companies outlawing or at least restricting email and getting more done.

🎤 National Union of Journalists event, March 8 – a chat with John Crowley, co-author of the Journalism in Time of Covid survey, on freelancing and mental health.

Guests welcome – email me!! if you’d like to come.  

Categories
Newsletter

The Shift: Issue #18

How to be productive WFH without going crazy; The State of Remote Work 2020 Report; Inbox Zero.

I did some training this week on ‘how to be productive working from home without going crazy’ with Thanh Pham, founder of Asian Efficiency.

Marie Kondo’s relative, surely!?!

I’ve been working from home for years and enjoy it, but am curious to know what else I can do to improve my set up and make it more fun. We’re six months into this global WFH experiment, and after this week’s government U-turn, it looks set to continue for another six months.

So, what have we learned so far? Will WFH be a permanent thing for companies or just a byproduct of the ‘interim economy’—a term used to describe the theoretical two years it could take for the economy to bounce back after lockdown? A new report on The State of Remote Work Q3 2020, highlights some significant and emerging trends. Read more.