When my children are watching a movie and we need them to take care of something outside of the room, they have one request: pause it.
It’s a fair request—they don’t want to miss Elsa building her snow castle. They know the words better than Idina Menzel, but they’re still as engaged as the first time they watched it.
I’m not sure this is something we ever really outgrow. We like results. We like progress. We like setting up goals and projects and ticking off little boxes and relish that sense of satisfaction at the end. Ah, dopamine!
Being productive is good. It’s how we create value. But there are times where we need to step back and push pause so we can take care of something else.
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When the iPhone was introduced, one of the most innovative and controversial aspects of the design was the keyboard. Before the iPhone, phones either had a physical QWERTY keyboard (like the prevalent Blackberry phones) or relied on a numeric keypad with T9 (like my stylish Motorolla RAZR).
The power of this design choice (obvious in hindsight) is that you can easily change the keyboard without having to change the hardware. Parlez-vous Français? Bam! You’ve got an AZERTY keyboard. Chinese? You have a keyboard that lets you draw characters. TextExpander’s keyboard will expand macros as you type them and Google’s keyboard lets you swipe between letters to spell out words. You can search and browse emoji. On the iPad, there’s even a keyboard that recognizes handwriting.
This is a flexibility that you just don’t have with a hardware keyboard. You can customize how you type according to personal preference.
There’s another keyboard built in to iOS that you may not have tried: the Siri Dictation keyboard. It’s 3x faster than typing.
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Some decisions take forever to make. We agonize over them. We weigh our options, list the pros and cons, and do 10–10–10 analyses. Finally, we’re out of time, and we default into whatever outcome we last vacillated to.
And then there are decisions that are so clear, the question hasn’t had time to make it all the way across our minds and we’ve already acted. The decision isn’t any easier to reach. It’s just that we’ve already spent time thinking about the desired outcomes we want in principle. When the choice is placed before us, we find that we’ve already decided what we’re going to do. Now it’s time to act.
There are five levels of what I’m going to call Peak Productivity. It’s a mountain we all climb every day. Some busily run up and down the foothills all day. Some stay on the lofty peaks and never come down. If we want to get the most out of life—day-to-day and over the years—we need to spend time at all levels.
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You can’t pick up a set of weights, bust out 240 reps, and expect good things to happen. For one thing, if you can do 240 reps without stopping, you don’t have enough weight. If you have the correct weight, your muscles will give out after about fifteen reps.
Instead of going for one set of 240, break it up. Do fifteen reps, then rest for a minute or two. Call that a set. Do four sets of four different exercises, and you can easily get 240 reps in an hour-long workout.
The key is the rest between each set. That one- or two-minute break gives your muscles a much-needed rest to recover. Work them too hard—including not giving them that break—and you’re just going to get tired without seeing the results you’re after.
Your brain needs rest between reps while it’s working, too. The Pomodoro Technique, developed by Francesco Cirillo, is designed to help you develop a similar natural cadence at work.
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Feedback helps us grow and get better. Needs lead to actions, actions lead to results. Feedback tells us how well the actions are creating results that meet our needs. Then we can adjust—or continue—our actions as appropriate.
Some feedback is nice and objective. If the cake tastes good, we remember the recipe. If it’s too dry, we make a note to not bake it for so long next time.
Feedback that comes from another human can be extremely subjective. Even when there are clear performance-based outcomes you can measure objectively, the methods can be open to subjective interpretation and projection. The best feedback focuses on how you can build on your strengths and overcome your weaknesses.
Not everybody knows how to give feedback correctly. Instead of praising and encouraging, they criticize and discourage. They probably aren’t doing it intentionally and there may still be something actionable behind their sentiments. The highest-performers learn to hear what they were trying to say without letting their words get in the way.
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