Do you remember Sam, the multi-faceted talent who managed to have a full-time job, some side hustles, passion projects, and multiple hobbies besides being able to make time for friends and gym classes? If you think, she is a multitasking genius, you err. And if you think, she must have motivation sparkles raining down on her all day, you err again.
So, how does she manage to do all these things? Let's talk about 3 productivity myths. First, the myth of motivation, second, the myth of multi-tasking, and third, the myth of mastering everything.
🚨 The myth of motivation
There are two types of people. Those who try hard and harder to motivate themselves to do something. And then those, who simply do it. According to TED talker and author Jeff Haden, motivation is a sugar rush that never lasts.
The author of The Motivation Myth, Jeff Haden, says success depends on your process. Therefore, you need to master your process, in order to succeed not the goal. What does it mean?
First, let's talk about goals and motivation. There are two types of motivation, intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. The best goals are those that come intrinsically, so from inside of you. Intrinsic goals, for example, being able to play the guitar because you love singing or music in general, is a goal that might come with intrinsic motivation. Because you really want to learn how to play the guitar, it is much easier for you to achieve this goal, instead of mastering your tax situation which is a topic many digital nomads postpone or actively ignore.
So, let's be honest, how many goals or tasks do we have on our to-do list, which are not coming from our passionate heart flirting with you? But more coming from the external force, like our boss or our client? The latter goals are much harder to achieve when we rely on motivation alone.
Having a goal is not enough to motivate yourself. You need discipline.
What we need instead of motivation is discipline. And discipline is a habit. The good news, habits are like muscles. You can train them and after a while of doing something regularly, consistently and over a period of some weeks or a month, the new action becomes a natural routine and develops into a habit.
If you want to learn more about habits, check out Atomic Habits by James Clear. The book explains how to get new habits, stick to good habits, remove bad habits, and track habits.
Watching Jeff Haden's TED talk, he shared the cycle that will develop over time, including effort, improvements, satisfaction, and motivation which will continue in an endless loop.
So, to sum it up, before waiting for Ms. Motivation to enter the ballroom, you need to start the dance with Mr. Discipline first. Ms. Motivation will show up at one point, but taking action by starting to do comes first.
Or as the master puts it: "You need to work your process in order to make progress which then will lead to success" Jeff Haden.
🚧 The myth of multitasking
After learning that discipline is the main ingredient in your task cocktail, let's have a closer look at the myth of multitasking. According to Ph.D. Cynthia Kubu of the center of neuro-restoration at the Cleveland Clinic, only 2.5 % of all people in the world are able to multi-task effectively. There is a big chance, that you and I belong to the other 97.5 % of the world's population of rapidly task-switching individuals who falsely believe that what we are doing is effective multitasking.
In fact, we fire our neurochemicals lavishly in all directions, trying to finish everything in the shortest time frame. The results might cause in burnout, stress, anxiety, and depression.
Air traffic controllers, for example, have to take mandatory 15-30 minutes breaks after an hour of focused work in order to restore their neurochemicals.
In the event, you don't believe me, and I encourage you to not believe me blindly, try this exercise. There is still the chance you belong to the 2.5 % lucky effectively multi-tasking geniuses. Take a piece of paper and a pen.
- Draw two lines on the paper, like this:
3. Get someone to set the timer for you, or set your own timer.
4. Write on the first line: "I am great at multitasking" and on the second line the numbers 1 to 20.
5. Stop the time and write down how long you need to do this.
6. Do the exercise again by writing both, the sentence and the numbers, with both hands, parallel and at the same time. How long does it take you?
If you need a longer time with the second exercise, you are - like me - in the group of 97.5 % of the world's population that should stop multitasking.
- Put your phone away and all distractions.
- Use only one tab in your browser window.
- Focus on one task at a time.
🔮 The myth of mastering everything
I watched a productivity course by Dr. Ali Abdaal who refers some of his insights back to Jeff Haden, author of The Motivation Myth. Another take of this productivity course is the myth of mastering everything.
Let's go back to Sam, our multi-talented full-time employee with the side hustles, the passion projects, the many hobbies, and the free time to meet friends and family, or to learn a new skill. If you think, Sam is an expert in all these things, you err. In fact, she is an "AND"-person.
The "AND"-person would describe himself or herself as, "I am doing this, and this, and this, I am learning this and this, and I am interested in this and in this." The AND-person is a multi-faceted person with various sets of skills, talents, and interests. But, the AND-person is neither a genius nor an expert in all these things. The AND-person is a serial generalist and does not aim to become an expert in everything.
For example, if you would like to eat healthier, invest some time in getting really good at preparing three meals. Get to the level where you would be confident to cook these three meals for friends or family. When you learned these three meals, move on to another interest, for example learning how to play the guitar. Instead of aiming to join jam sessions or your favorite band, choose three songs you want to be able to play and to sing along. Three songs on the guitar are enough to contribute at a bonfire, but you don't need to pressure yourself to master the guitar. Slowly but surely, this approach can help you to become an AND-person.
What are the benefits? Maybe you want to see where your talents lie, you want to have easier starting points in conversations with strangers, or you want to widen your skills to feel more interesting as a person. Whatever your motivation is to learn something new, start in little chunks, and don't aim to become a master in everything.
On the other hand, you can also be an AND-person by going deeper into one or two topics, instead of widening the range of skills or interests. Look at Serena Williams, for example. She is not only a world-class tennis player, but she is also an entrepreneur with her own sportswear brand.
Now, if you like to master skills and interests, instead of having basic knowledge of multiple topics, you need to invest a bit more time. Scientists say you can become an expert in almost everything when you dedicate between 5 to 7 years to something. So, split up your expected lifespan into 5 years chunks and dedicate these periods to a specific topic. This approach might allow you to change your career, or to start from scratch with a business idea.
What I found interesting in researching productivity was the motivation myth, as we often put so much value on motivation. Discipline instead is the actual sparkle that kickstarts the engine, and by doing something over and over again, we can train our mind - like a muscle - for this new habit. Or as Jeff Haden put it: "Your dreams are important, but your plans are the ones that will allow you to achieve your goals and live your dream." So, work your plan.