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Weekly 3: Use time as a tool

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Summary: Get in touch with your past self. Take advantage of how your brain works. Make the most of e
 

Idea Journal Weekly 3

February 17 · Issue #74 · View online
We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: Get in touch with your past self. Take advantage of how your brain works. Make the most of endings. (~6 min read)
Note: Idea #2 is taken from a previous issue, and we’ve included it here because it fits well with the core theme: using time as a tool.

#1. What would your past self say?
In an interview on The Knowledge Project podcast, organizational psychologist Adam Grant points out that we’re not very good at “mental time travel.”
For example, when we face a personal or professional hardship, we tend to amplify its importance in the moment: it can feel like it’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to you.
But it’s unlikely that any single hardship is the worst thing that’s ever happened to you, given all of your experiences.
Grant suggests that a crucial skill in successfully dealing with adversity in the present is the ability to get in touch with your past self.
When you’re facing adversity, he recommends these 2 steps:
1. Ask: What would my past self have done in this situation?
When you do this, you’ll often find that you now have resources and skills that help you deal with the present challenge that you didn’t have in the past.
2. If the first step doesn’t help, ask: What’s an adversity I faced that was similarly difficult, or even worse, and how did I overcome it?
Remembering that you’ve overcome challenges in the past has the following benefits:
  • It boosts your self-efficacy and gives you confidence that you can do it again.
  • It can sometimes help you remember problem-solving strategies you applied in the past, but have since forgotten.
You can also use mental time travel to better appreciate those things you’ve already accomplished.
Grant talks about how much he’s loved reading ever since he was a kid, and what a “meaningful life transition” it was for him to become an author and publish his first book, Give and Take.
But by the time he wrote his second book, Originals, it hardly registered as something to mark as a significant milestone: “It’s not like I should have been less excited or proud when book two came out than book one, and yet I had totally adapted to the idea of being an author.”
To better appreciate such milestones when they do occur, Grant now asks himself: If my five-years-ago self knew this was going to happen, how excited would I be?
#2. To learn more effectively, use the Pomodoro Technique
Professor and bioengineering researcher Barbara Oakley points out in her book Mindshift that the brain has 2 operating modes: 
  • Focused mode: this mode is activated whenever you consciously turn your attention to a given task or material – most of your energy goes into intense focus.
  • Diffuse mode: this is when you’re not focused on anything in particular – most of your energy goes into other, more relaxed networks (e.g., when you’re standing in the shower, going for a run, or looking out the window of a car).
To help you learn more effectively by taking advantage of how the brain works, Oakley recommends using the Pomodoro Technique, originally developed by productivity expert Francesco Cirillo.
Here’s how to use it in 2 steps: 
1. Remove all distractions, digital or otherwise, set a timer for 25 minutes, and then focus as hard as you can on what you’re studying or working on.
2. When the timer goes off, let your brain relax for a few minutes: for example, go for a short walk, chat with friends, listen to your favorite song – do anything that makes you feel “comfortably distracted.“ You’re not completely conscious of it, but this is the crucial step that gives your brain “a chance to consolidate the material you’ve learned” and is key to making creative connections.
For Oakley, the Pomodoro Technique is powerful because it trains your ability to focus, acknowledges the inevitable temptation to procrastinate, and includes built-in periods of relaxation that are equally important for learning. 
It’s like first completing “a focused workout in your mental gym, after which you head to the mental spa,” so that the overall experience is both productive and enjoyable.
#3. Get more meaning out of your workday
Author Dan Pink writes in his book When that, “Closings, conclusions, and culminations reveal something essential about the human condition: In the end, we seek meaning.”
Endings have the power to energize us to reach a goal, help us reflect on what matters most, and edit the nonessential from our lives.
Once we’re aware of the significance and impact of closing moments in various areas of our lives, we can make a more conscious effort to shape them.
One area in which you can create more meaningful endings is the workday. As Pink notes, when the workday ends, many of us want to rush off – to be with friends or family, run errands, “or just beeline to the nearest bar.”
But instead of fleeing, Pink recommends reserving the final 5 minutes of work for a few small, deliberate actions that will help bring the day to a more fulfilling close:
1. Write down the day’s accomplishments
Take 2 or 3 minutes to write down what you accomplished since the morning.
Although making progress is the “single largest day-to-day motivator on the job,” without tracking what we’ve done on a regular basis it’s hard to know whether we’re progressing.
Pink himself swears by the practice: “On good days, the exercise delivers feelings of completion; on bad days, it often shows me I got more done than I suspected.”
2. Plan for tomorrow
You can then use the remaining few minutes to lay out your plan for the next day: “This will help close the door on today and energize you for tomorrow.”
Quote of the Week
“We must use time as a tool, not as a couch.”
- US President John F. Kennedy in a speech to the National Association of Manufacturers in 1961
Idea Journal
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