Shorts

Shorts are small essays that I publish every day. They usually only take 2-5 minutes to read, and touch on all the same topics that my blog covers.

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Otherwise, enjoy below!

Mastering Distraction

Distraction is caused by our desire to relieve discomfort.

We open our phones to avoid work. To avoid staring at the blank page. To avoid whatever harder work is in front of us and making us uncomfortable.

Mastering distraction is about mastering discomfort.

Here are three ways to beat discomfort and distraction:

1. When you feel distracted, write down how you’re feeling.

The aim of this exercise is to identify the emotion that is making you feel uncomfortable. 

Why are you seeking distraction?

2. Explore the emotion with curiosity.

We get ashamed and angry at ourselves when we get distracted. But this isn’t productive.

Instead, try to take the perspective of a third-party observer, or a scientist observing the results of an experiment. Be curious. But don’t judge.

3. Surf the urge.

Emotions—and distraction—hit us like a wave, rising and then subsiding. You can use that to your advantage by telling yourself you can be distracted, but in 10 minutes.

By the time 10 minutes is up, often the urge will be gone.

Mastering distraction is really about mastering discomfort.

Write down the emotion, explore it with curiosity, and surf the urge.

Wasted Time

The time you plan to waste is not wasted time.

Nir Eyal, the author of Indistractible, promotes this idea.

And I agree.

For overachievers, it can feel physically uncomfortable to be doing something that feels unproductive.

Meditating, or relaxing with friends.

But those times are important. Our mind gets a break, during which our subconscious can work.

This process is a key part of solving hard problems and deep thinking.

But friendships are also formed by wasting time together.

Colleagues don’t become friends until you’ve spent time on things other than work.

We made friends as kids by wasting time between class, sports, and the rest of life.

The time you plan to waste is not wasted time.

Tools

Tools are what allow us to get work done.

But the best craftsman can create great work regardless of the tools.

We are fascinated by technology.

New toys, new software, new devices, new methods of productivity—they are shiny objects distracting us from the real work.

For the real work, the tools don’t matter.

Many great books have been written by hand, or by typewriter. 

Many great businesses have been built with nothing but a telephone and a fax machine.

The tools don’t matter. 

How we use them does.

Don’t let the tools be your excuse.

Urgent and Easy, or Important?

We focus on the urgent and easy work when we should focus on the important.

It’s an easy trap to fall into. The modern workplace—virtual or not—is built for it.

Someone always needs urgent help on Slack. Or email. Everything seems like a crisis.

It’s easy to be reactive. It feels good to help out, to respond, to be quick. To be someone who is always available.

But it’s a barrier to the real work.

The important work that requires deep thinking. Planning strategy, thinking about alternative options, or making a significant decision.

Deep work that requires writing, and editing, and research. 

Coding and building, or perfecting a design.

The hard work of reaching out to customers and listening.

Urgent and easy are always there. They’re like shiny objects, drawing our eye.

The best make time for important work, and make progress every day.

Over time, that work compounds. Great achievements require it.

Make time for the important before the urgent and the easy.

There Are No New Lessons

Learning never stops.

We learn new skills, new words, and new points of view every single day.

But the big lessons—lessons about life, love, happiness—they aren’t new.

Many have learned them before us, and many will learn them after we are gone.

So why can’t we learn them all and be done? 

As humans, we forget. We have to learn lessons over and over to remember.

And it’s hard for us to know something before we experience it.

Reading isn’t the same as living. 

The psychologist William James developed four criteria for a “mystical” experience.

One is the “noetic quality” of the experience, which “registers not only as a feeling but as a state of knowledge.”

In other words, it is the difference between knowing in theory, and the knowledge that comes with experience.

All lessons we learn are like this; it is very difficult for us to really know something until we’ve experienced it.

There are no new lessons. 

We just have yet to experience most of them.

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