Sunday Self-Scaler 23
Another MASSIVE surprise for you and a guide on how to achieve more in an hour than you normally would in five
Hola Amigos and Amigas! How have you all been?
I’ve been facing a bitter-sweet time → the joy of my tattoo’s negated by the fact that I can’t hit the gym for a while (since the stretching might damage the tattoo).
For those of y’all that missed the last Thursday Talk-Thread, here’s a photo of the tattoo.
Apart from That, There’s a HUGE Announcement I Have for You.
Ever since I noticed my productivity content tended to perform really well online, I thought of creating a course.
Luckily, at around the same time, folks from AVID, a revolutionary new audio-based learning platform reached out to me. After a lot of back and forth, the course idea, structure, content, etc. are fleshed out.
You can find the course page here. What’s exciting is, you’re one of the first ones to know about this.
And if you sign up now → by just dropping your email on the above course page, you will get a massive discount when the course actually goes live.
And for being part of my newsletter family, I’ll arrange an additional bonus discount.
It will be packed with value so don’t miss out on it! Cya there. Now, enjoy today’s scaler. Keeping in mind with this announcement, today’s issue is going to be a productivity guide.
How to Achieve More in an Hour than You Normally Would in Five
I’m bamboozled. Just an hour in and I was done with 2 drafts. Not long ago, it used to take me 2.5 hours to complete just one.
I would sit in front of an empty draft, think for a while, write something, doubt it, rewrite it, redoubt it, scrap it altogether and start again. Somehow get a section done, then search for a picture, lose my flow, go back and edit the first section, and so on.
Until, after close to 3 painstaking hours, I’m burned out and have a sub-par draft to show for.
But based on what I learned from Atomic Habits, Flow, and Deep Work, I developed and honed a 5-step strategy that completely changed my writing game. I’ve since generalized this strategy for other activities and my productivity has hit the skies.
Flow states are like teleporting from consciousness to a dreamland in your mind where effort looks easy. Work without flow feels like a hike up the steepest hill you’ve ever seen in comparison.
This strategy works really well for coding, writing, painting, studying, or any other activity that benefits from sustained focus. And not so well for shallow activities like sorting through mails or scheduling meetings.
Without further ado, let us dive into the strategy and I hope that it helps you 5x or even 10x your productivity.
Step 1 — Perform Meta Work
Meta is something that refers to itself so meta-knowledge is knowledge about knowledge, metadata is data about data and similarly — meta work is work on the actual work.
In the case of my writing, the meta-work included brainstorming, coming up with a title, and planning the structure, flow, and intent of the article.
If you’re working on a project, it’d be listing the objectives, sketching out a rough timeline, and planning the project pipeline. And if it’s studying, the meta work could be — planning what topic to study, how much, how to go about it, and for how long.
“It’s like removing the tangles from your hair before you comb it properly.”
Whatever your work is, meta work is everything that strips your work of its uncertainty and makes it straightforward. So, it’s like removing the tangles from your hair before you comb it properly.
Here’s a 3 step strategy for successful meta work:
Clearly define what your work is. The key is to be specific. If you’re going to study, it’s not enough to say, “I’m going to study”. Which subject? What topic? How much do you wanna finish? So, something like — “I’m going to study the pointers part of C until I understand pointer arithmetic.”
Break It Down Into Its Components. With writing, the components are — the idea, title, structure, image, the actual writing, and editing. When you’re breaking the work down, do it until each chunk is “atomic” — something you can complete in one shot without any interruptions.
Order the Components. When it comes to the components, the biggest problem is our fickleness — we start with one, jump to another, come back to the first, hop to something else, etc. By strictly ordering the components, you establish a clear path to follow.
Finish the Shallow Work Prerequisites. Before I get to the actual writing, I complete the shallow work portions — the title, intent, and rough structure. If you’re painting, these could be — setting up the aisle, mixing out your colors, and deciding the subject. With a coding project — the features, flow diagram, and installing the necessary libraries. Remember, anything that doesn’t require dedicated focus is shallow work.
Step 2 — Have a Starting Ritual
Before I sit down to write, I always splash my face with some cold water and play one particular song. It’s a ritual — a signal to my brain that I am about to write. And before working out, I like to chug down a cup of black coffee and watch a particular YouTube video.
Similarly, you can make your own starting ritual — a unique set of actions that you associate with some particular work.
Initially, Pavlov’s dog would salivate at the sight of food but not at the sound of a bell.
To condition the dog, Pavlov started ringing the bell whenever he brought the dog its food.
After a couple of times doing this, the dog starts salivating at just the sound of the bell, at the anticipation of the food.
What happened here is called classical conditioning — the linking of an unrelated stimulus (the bell) and response (salivation) through the use of a related stimulus (the food).
So just like the dog salivating at the sound of the bell, we want to be able to feel ready when we complete our starting ritual. We already have unconscious associations in place — the urge to pee when we visit the bathroom or the thought of sleeping when we step into the bedroom.
To consciously create one, you have to deliberately perform your starting ritual the first few times. Once the association kicks in, you’ll start to see the benefits.
Step 3 — Destroy All Distractions
Before I sit down to write, I tell my family I don’t want to be disturbed, latch my door, and turn on Cold Turkey writer — an application that presents me with a blank white page to type on and nothing else. No internet, no way to open other applications, nothing.
Of course, my mom might peek in for something, I might feel the urge to pee, or some other distraction might arise, but there are none for the most part.
The key is to try your best to get rid of every distraction possible. A distraction-free environment is the most conducive to getting into the flow state. Here are a few ways to cut out distractions:
If you’re working at home, let your family know that you don’t want to be disturbed. If it’s at the office or outside, find yourself a silent and isolated space.
Set your smartphone on DnD or even better keep it in another room.
If you can’t cut out the noise, put on a pair of headphones and play some chill mix.
Take a piss, fuel up on some food, and have a bottle of water within your hand’s reach so that you don’t have to get up for these things.
Step 4 — Start with Low Quality or Easy Work
I usually batch write 2 drafts and plan in such a way that one’s much easier than the other. This is because diving into a hard draft straight away is intimidating and I’m hence much more likely to procrastinate.
But with an easy draft, I start off motivated and by the time I am done with it, I’m ripping words. When there’s only one draft to write, I start off with editing an existing one. Editing is again much lighter work.
The key here is putting the lighter or easier part of the work first. Since it’s less intimidating, you’ll be much more motivated to start.
Your brain likes easy so bait it — if it’s studying, start with the easiest topic. If it’s playing the guitar, warm up with some chords. If it’s a coding project, start with the easiest class file.
Step 5 — Tap Into and Sustain Flow
By the time you are done with the easy work, you would be slipping into a state of flow. Keep going — the flow will only get more intense.
I’m nearing the end of this draft and the words are just spilling out. My fingers seem to have a life of their own. That’s the power of flow — your productivity goes on steroids.
But since flow pushes your brain to its limits, it’s quite mentally exhausting and hard to sustain for long. The first time I tried this strategy, just 30 minutes in and I felt my flow waning. But the more I tried, the longer and better I got at tapping into flow.
“That’s the power of flow — your productivity goes on steroids.”
So don’t beat yourself if you find yourself not able to sustain the flow state for long. As with any other thing, you get better at it with practice — not only the duration but also the depth of focus.
The most beautiful part about flow is that enhanced productivity is only a side effect. The real benefit is the accompanying happiness and a sense of fulfillment. As Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says in his book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience,
“ontrary to what we usually believe, the best moments in our lives, are not the passive, receptive, or relaxing times. The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.
Sitting on the couch with one hand in a bag of chips and the other clutching the TV remote might be pleasurable but a 2-hour session of writing is much more rewarding.
So what’re you waiting for? Use this strategy, tap into flow, 5x your productivity, and also lead a happier life!
That’s all for today! With the productivity guide being long and comprehensive, I didn’t want to burden or bore you with more information.
Cheers to a productive week ahead!