How Your Hobby Can Boost Your Career

Your hobby can make you a more rounded person, make you more interesting and even make you more successful. I am not talking about turning your hobby into a side-hustle, no, this is a post about how blogging can improve your performance at work.

The Many Benefits of Hobbies

Hobbies have been found to improve creativity, lower stress and prevent burnout. Work shouldn’t be the only thing that defines you, because if it is, then what happens when you leave that job or get fired? A good hobby can give you another side of your identity, so when you lose one part (your job) you still have many other parts (your family, your friends, your hobbies).

It just takes one hour a day of engaging in a hobby to make you feel refreshed and more fulfilled. The hobby can be anything that actively engages you, I can’t tell you what you liked doing. That said, I recommend anything where you can learn and improve. It can be creative like drawing, playing an instrument or writing a blog or it can be physical like running, lifting weights or playing football. The important part, is it’s something you enjoy.

Why Hobbies Help

  • Firstly hobbies break up your day from all the spreadsheets, meetings and office bullshit you have to put up with. Just taking a break is a helpful for your poor frazzled brain. It allows you to recharge, so that when you are at work, you can focus.
  • Hobbies make you more rounded as a person. You’re not just John the accountant, you’re John the guy who paints, runs and does some top notch accounting work.
  • Hobbies allow you to achieve outside of work. Once you finish that 5k you can say “Wow, I ran 5k today, that’s pretty impressive” or you can look back at the wooden ducks you whittled and feel proud of yourself.

I can say from experience these things are true, I sketched for the first time in a while the other day. It’s not my best drawing, but whilst I was doing it, time and the world around me melted away, leaving just me, the pencil and the paper.

A quick sketch of Auri from The Kingkiller Chronicle

What hobby could you restart? What hobby have you always wanted to try? Let me know in the comments below.

Facts and Figures Don’t Work: How To Persuade Someone You’re Right

I’m telling you, this phone isn’t plugged in!! Hello?! HEEELLLOO?!

It’s a tale as old as time, you are wrong, they are right. How do you make them see the truth?

It seems intuitive that if you want to win an argument, you prove the other person wrong. Logic and reason will win out, sadly this is not true. People will defend their opinion until they die once you attack their beliefs, no matter how logical your arguments.

There are 3 ways to actually convince someone though.

1) Don’t Make The Other Person An Idiot

People are prideful. Your opponent (or friend or lover) doesn’t want to look (and more importantly feel) like an idiot. So don’t make them an idiot.

When was the last time you enjoyed admitting you were wrong? When was the last time you looked forward to pointing out how stupid you have been?

If you can take the sting out of them being wrong, make them see that anyone would have thought the same given the information they had, you can let them change their mind without looking stupid. Giving a person a pain-free way out, is key to changing their opinion.

The moment you chastise them for their beliefs, you have lost them (I am very guilty of this) and you are not getting them back. They will dig in and fight you harder.

2) Look At Things From Their Point Of View

In some cases there isn’t a clear right or wrong. Sometimes you are even working towards the same goal as your opponent but you have different ideas on how to reach your goal.

If you can understand why they believe what they do, you can start to work with them.

Where I work, we recently tried to implement a new filing system. Both sides wanted to make it easier to find the file you needed, when you needed it.

We did not listen to each other, we attacked each other’s methods, rather than trying to understand each other’s points of view. As a result we got into a heated argument and never reached a solution.

If instead we had realised we both wanted to just make finding files easier, rather than defending our own favourite methods, we could have come to the best conclusion. Then we would all have a better filing system as a result.

3) See More Of The World

You never learn anything new if you do the same things every day, talking to the same people, reading the same blogs.

Talk to people you disagree with, with the intention of listening to what they have to say. Try asking someone to explain why they believe something you don’t believe. Don’t offer your own opinion, see how it makes you feel.

If you want to change minds, be willing to change your own. Admitting mistakes isn’t fun or easy, but it’s necessary for growth.

Let me know in the comments below if anyone changed your mind or why they didn’t.

4 Simple Steps to Stop Procrastinating

This post will teach you why you procrastinate and how to stop procrastinating. It is part of my series of posts detailing what I learned on the Learning How To Learn course on Coursera.

Why We Form Habits

Habits save you energy. Your brain is only a tiny part of your total weight, yet it manages to use 20% of your energy. Sadly, this doesn’t mean that thinking really hard will help you lose weight. However, it does mean that your brain does whatever it can to save energy, like automating tasks it knows how to do. A habit is this automation.

The 4 Stages of a Habit

Habits have 4 stages, if you can understand them, you can learn to use them to your advantage, rather than letting them use you. Want to start a habit of exercising? Learn the 4 stages. Want to stop your habit of eating twenty chocolates a day? Learn the 4 stages. You have been kept in suspense long enough, these are the 4 stages:

  1. The Cue
  2. The Routine
  3. The Reward
  4. The Belief

The Cue

The cue is the thing you see, hear, smell or whatever that sends you into the automatic trance known as a habit. The Cue is the only stage where you need to exercise willpower. That’s great news, my whole life I thought people who conquered bad habits just had an iron will. Instead, they had better systems than me.

Common Cues include:

Your phone vibrating – makes you check for notifications

Seeing your to-do list – makes you watch TV instead of doing work

The smell of your favourite bakery – makes you go in and buy those pastries you love, but know you definitely can’t have

Resisting a Cue causes an actual pain response in your brain, but if you can overcome it, the pain fades very quickly. This is the time to start a better Routine.

The Routine

The Routine is very powerful. The Routine is you actually acting out a habit, it’s browsing YouTube for ten seconds, only to find out that mermaids do exist!! And that 4 hours have passed and you still haven’t done your assignment!!

Next time you see an unpleasant thing you need to do, but really don’t want to. Just work on it for the smallest amount of time you can handle. Since the pain fades so fast, you may find you actually end up doing more work than you thought you would.

The Reward

Now celebrate.

Celebrating helps you convince your brain that you did a good thing, but don’t be too hard on yourself if you fail. Habit changing can take time, it gets easier with each victory though.

The Reward is the immediate feeling of pleasure you get when you start your habit. It’s the warm gooey centre of your favourite chocolate cake, or that endorphin rush after a workout. Creating a good reward is key to avoiding procrastination.

Good Rewards can be a tasty treaty, some tantalising TV or telling yourself “well done, pal”.

The fun thing you do when you procrastinate is it’s own Reward, so you’re fighting a master of it’s craft. Your own brain!

If you’re struggling with rewarding yourself, try having the reward at the same time or same point in progress. This creates an expectation in your mind of reward, like you are training your brain to expect it.

The Belief

This is how you feel about a habit, if you don’t believe you can change a habit, then you can’t. If you do believe you can change a habit, then you can.

If you’re struggling with this part, then don’t worry. Beliefs can be changed. The first 3 steps will help you.

Once you have been trying to build a new habit for a while but it hasn’t become automatic yet, it can start to feel difficult and the allure of giving up becomes stronger. This is when you need to remind yourself that your system works and you are doing better with this new habit.

Process Beats Product

The Product is the thing you hope to achieve by starting a session of work, such as an item on your to-do list, a piece of homework, an assignment at work, the list goes on.

The Process is you actually doing the thing, it’s you lifting some weights, writing some words or cleaning some plates.

If you focus on the Process like “I will write for the next 20 minutes”, you never mentioned the finished Product you want to get out of it and you are less likely to produce the pain response in your brain so you have less of a Cue to procrastinate.

Let me know in the comments below if any of these ideas worked for you, or if they were total crap.

An Experiment In Editing – 4: To Sell Is Human

The following is the fourth in a series of posts inspired by Jason Fried’s post on Signal V. Noise about a writing class he would like to teach. In the hypothetical class, he aimed to show that editing and compressing is truly valuable. That’s why the posts get shorter, not just varying in length, he aims to go from the fully explored idea to just the main point of the text. I am going to attempt to do this with several of my posts, as an experiment to see if it helps with my writing skills.

To see the original post, please click here.

One-Line Version

Selling is important, selling solves problems, selling can make lives better.

One-Paragraph Version

Every job involves persuading people, a good solution to a problem, needs people to believe in it, for it to be implemented. You need to understand people, keep going when things get tough and understand the problem you want to solve. To move people, you need you pitch your offer, be able to adapt to changing situations and you need to work for the customer. Not just yourself.

Three-Paragraph Version

Why Sales?

Every job today has an element of “non-sales selling” (persuading, influencing and convincing others in ways that don’t involve them making a purchase). These skills are critical in all jobs, so we are all sales people. In a world where everyone has access to the same information, moving people can be a way to help people solve a problem, not screw them over.

The ABCs of Selling

Attunement – Understanding your customer, so you can figure out the best solution for them, as an individual.

Buoyancy – Being able to keep going despite all the rejection you will face trying to move people.

Clarity – Understanding the situation as clearly as possible, so you can solve problems your customers didn’t know they had or didn’t know could be solved.

Skills You Need, To Be Good At Moving People

Pitch – Your customers can’t buy your offer if they don’t know it exists. If you never put the information into the world, it doesn’t exist. An effective pitch is crucial to moving people.

Improvise – Plans fail, situations change. You need to be able to think on your feet and adapt to the situation as required.

Serve – A good salesperson ultimately serves their customer. You can improve your service by making it personal (find a way to improve your customer’s situation). Or by making it purposeful (find a way to improve the world, even just a little bit).

One-Page Version

This book is about how Sales not only deserves a re-branding from being all about pushy con-artists, but that Sales is actually a necessary skill for workers everywhere today.  

We All Work in Sales

A Survey of western workers, found that 1 in 9 people work in traditional sales, but that the other 8 in 9 spend 40% of their time in “non-sales selling” (persuading, influencing and convincing people in such a way that doesn’t involve them making a purchase).  Pink refers to this as “moving people”

How We All came to be in Sales

One of the skills that seems to be universally useful, is the skill to move people. Teachers move their students when they get them to study hard and learn for their futures. Nurses move people when they work on building a treatment plan with their patients to create a plan that works and they will stick to outside of the hospital setting.

Does Sales Deserve Its Bad Reputation?

The success of a sales technique is determined by the amount of information on both sides of the transaction. If the seller has more information, he has more power, so he can use tricks and be pushy to get more sales. Today, every person has access to the same information as everyone else, this means the seller and buyer are equally powerful, so lies and tricks won’t work. So today, the best salespeople actually work to find the best solutions for their customers, not just to get the best deals for themselves.

Attunement

Attunement, is all about understanding your customer. The better you understand the person and their needs, the better chance you have of being able to help them with their problems and therefore the better chance you have of making the sale.

Buoyancy

Salespeople face a lot of rejection. No matter how persuasive you are, you can’t persuade everyone. If you give up at the first failure, you will never sell anything. Being able to bounce back and carry on is key to surviving in sales.

Clarity

Clarity allows you and your customer to see the situation clearly and understand it. You can offer a solution to a problem your customer may not have known even existed or that they did not have know could be solved.

Pitch

The pitch is how your customer learns about your offering. If you never make the offer, no one ever finds out about it and therefore never buys it. The stronger the pitch, the more likely you will move people.

Improvise

Selling on a formula doesn’t work in a world where information is so readily available. Being able to react and adapt to situations is a key skills in moving people.

Serve

As a salesperson, you have the opportunity to improve the lives of others, your offer solves a problem. There are two ways to serve. Make it personal, find a way your offer benefits the person. Make it purposeful, find a way your offer makes the world a better place.

How To Improve Your Performance At Work In Just 10 Minutes A Day

If like me, your job comes under the umbrella of knowledge work (typically an office job when your knowledge is what contributes most to your job such as procurement, admin or accounting) then it can be difficult to objectively measure your performance from day to day. You could even go months or years and not have a real understanding of how or if your performance has improved.

It turns out, there is a solution that takes just 10 minutes a day, a Work Journal. I’m not talking about “dear diary, today at work I blah blah blah…”, I mean spending 10 minutes at the end of the day, reflecting on what went well and what did not go well that day and how you could possibly make improvements. There are several benefits that come from keeping a Work Journal.

You Will Learn More About Yourself

If you build a habit of taking notes what you did well and what you did not so well, you will start to see common themes in your journal. These themes can then be categorised into strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes.

If you focus on your strengths and do less of the things you are weak at, you will start to see your general performance at work increase. By figuring out what you like and dislike doing, you can let your boss know what kinds of projects you enjoy and hopefully they will let you do more of the work you like, so your work itself will be more enjoyable. If you tell your boss that you dislike keeping track of what work you need to bill for or how many hours you worked, they will probably tell you to piss off. No job seems to be free of admin. Maybe instead, you can say “I really enjoyed getting stuck into that problem the other day, I’d like more complicated projects like that”. Sounds much more proactive than whining about admin.

You Will Become More Patient

Learning happens gradually, but it builds. It’s is like compound interest, it keeps building at a faster rate, the more you do it, so it’s a great investment of your time. If you progress just a tiny bit each day, when you look back a year from now, you will see a dramatic increase where all those tiny improvements from each day have added up. This will inspire you to keep learning more, so you get even better. It’s a cycle of improvement.

You Will Learn To Plan better

If you start the journal today, then check your progress tomorrow, you will likely see no result. But, if you are keeping tabs on yourself each day for a few months or years, you can look back over your notes and see progress. You will be able to predict problems that used to seem random. As you look back over your journal entries, you will see that for example the phones go crazy at the same time everyday, so you can make sure to have a clear schedule and be ready for the ensuing chaos. Being prepared for a problem will make it so much easier to handle.

You Will See Personal Growth

Memory is imperfect and completely subjective. Things recorded in ink (or pixels) will stay the same forever. Having this objective record makes observing your patterns of growth that much easier. You will be able to read old journal entries and see how you overcame issues, you will see tasks you used to dread that you now handle with ease. Being able to re-read your own thoughts and feelings from the past will allow you to see how far you have come since then.

If you know of any more benefits of keeping a work journal, please let me know in the comments below.

The Worst Way To Start Your Day

I personally hate the news and tend to avoid it when I can. It just brings me down, makes me feel like the world is in a terrible state and that everything is awful. I suddenly realise how dangerous it is to be alive and that is only a matter of time before we are all killed off by superbugs, the NHS collapses and Brexit tears our country apart.

I used to think I was being overly sensitive and maybe things weren’t that bad after all. Then I would catch the news just before a show I wanted to watch and suddenly the world was ending, people were dying and the internet wasn’t safe anymore.

It turns out, I am not alone, watching just 3 minutes of bad news in the morning makes you 27% more like to report having a bad day up to 6-8 hours later. Sadly, most news we receive is bad news as this sells better and most news outlets aim more to sell than to inform, they’re businesses after all.

How Can You Stay Informed Without The News Getting You Down?

If you feel it is your duty to stay informed, I respect that. But if you want to stay truly informed, you may have to balance your news sources a bit. The news on TV, the web and newspapers is up-to-date, but it isn’t an accurate portrayal of the events around the world. It is mainly the worst parts of what is going or can even be skewed to make it seem more negative than it actually is.

Try Reading a Book

David Cain recommends not watching the news at all, but rather he recommends taking deep dives into books, that offer more balanced viewpoints. The news can give you wider coverage of the worlds events, but you only ever get surface level knowledge that can be explained in little segments. If you read a heavily researched, unbiased book, you could critically analyse the information and create your own informed opinion.

You don’t need to know everything that is happening in the world at any one time and it would be impossible to do so. Better instead to actually understand fewer topics more deeply than hear about many stories without actually understanding the big picture.

Add Some Positivity To The Mix

If you still like to get your news in small bites but don’t want the negative mental health effects of the most common news outlets, you can combat the negativity with a little positivity. Some news sources prefer to focus on what good we can do for the world, rather than the classic British attitude of moaning and getting on with your day. Vox’s Future Perfect offers stories on how we can do better for the world in real actionable ways, see their introduction here and feel inspired.

An Experiment in Editing – 3: The Best Way To Avoid Burnout, Without Slowing Down

The following is the third in a series of posts inspired by Jason Fried’s post on Signal V. Noise about a writing class he would like to teach. In the hypothetical class, he aimed to show that editing and compressing is truly valuable. That’s why the posts get shorter, not just varying in length, he aims to go from the fully explored idea to just the main point of the text. I am going to attempt to do this with several of my posts, as an experiment to see if it helps with my writing skills.

One Line Version

A change is a good as a rest – My driving instructor actually told me that.

One-Paragraph Version

The instinctive way to avoid burnout is to slow down, to not work so hard or to take a break. This doesn’t have to be the case. To keep going, you need to do something that makes you think in a different way to the way you think at work. This is similar to working different muscle groups for your brain, if your arms are tired, your legs will still work fine. If you had some in-depth debates at work, take some quiet time and read a book.

Three-Paragraph Version

If you start feeling stressed and worn out, you know instinctively that you need to take a rest. You can’t keep going forever, your body requires downtime to be more effective in the up-times. So if you have worked too hard for too long you can take a break and go on holiday, then come back feeling refreshed. Maybe you could work less hard to begin with, but if you want to advance your career as quickly as possible and you know your peers aren’t going to slow down, then you could end up getting left behind. That said, I don’t recommend working late, just working hard within your normal working hours.

This is where doing a contrasting cognitive activity helps. What is a contrasting cognitive activity? It’s an activity where you are still using your brain, but you are using it in a different way to the way you do at work, similar to how when you work out at the gym you use different muscle groups on different days. The contrast between the two ways of thinking has been shown to prevent burnout for much more time than doing the same kind of activity for the same amount of time.

This doesn’t mean you have to do something fun at home to offset doing something useful at work, although I do recommend this as well. It’s more about using your brain to accomplish a different kind of task. If you feel you must do something productive for your contrasting activity, you can do so. If you have a very sociable job with lots of talking to clients, you could read a book at home, it can be educational if you still want to learn. If you write code all day, you could write a journal or blog posts at home. Your brain is capable of many different types of activities, so the list is endless, just separate work and home.

Original Post

We’ve all been there, work is just droning on and on. from week to week. Today is no different. You wake up, hit snooze, wish it were still the weekend and slowly drift off to sleep, then 10 minutes later, do it all over again. You drag yourself out of bed and into the shower. That’s over, even getting dressed feels difficult right now. Then there’s the dreary drive, with the never-ending queues of traffic. You finally get to the office and hope nothing major goes wrong, you just want an easy day. You finish, some fuzzy amount of time later, only to realise it’s Monday and you have to do it all over again for the next 4 days.

You swear the job didn’t use to be this bad, that Sally in marketing wasn’t that annoying just a few weeks ago. Yet the spreadsheets you used to tackle with glee (for some people this is true, don’t judge) suddenly look like a grey pile of sludge you have to trudge through. You are stressed. Last week you were stressed. This is what being burnt out feels like.

You see two ways out of this funk:

  1. As soon as you get home, just do nothing. Relax in front of the telly and pretend the whole world away. Then tomorrow, you will feel refreshed.
  2. Don’t work so hard anymore, this feeling is horrible and you don’t want to repeat it.

Here’s the problem, you try plan 1. but you are still stressed the next day, you realise escapism isn’t working, you are just as burnt out as before. On to plan 2. this lasts maybe an hour, then you realise you don’t want to do the bare minimum, you care about doing a good job and you want to progress in your career.

What now? Your two plans have failed. Time to hand in your letter of resignation? No. According to Google’s in-house productivity expert, Lila MacLellan, there is a better way. Google has shown time and time again how successful they can be in cognitively demanding environments, so she must know what she’s talking about, right?

MacLellan recommends doing activities that require you to use your brain in a different way to how you do at work. It’s like when people who go to the gym have different days for different muscles groups, if you did leg day every day, 3 days in a row, your legs would be exhausted and perform more poorly each successive day and you may even injure yourself.

It’s all about using your different brain muscles (figuratively speaking) if you have a super social chatty job like making sales calls one after the other, try quietly reading a book once you get home. If you stay sat at a desk all day, go for a brisk walk in the evening. If you write code at work, try drawing in your spare time. The task can be equally demanding of your brain’s abilities, but it just has to be a different way of using your brain than what got you so fatigued in the first place. Research has shown this to be much more effective in refreshing you from day to day, than just trying to avoid the stress or doing nothing.

This makes your day-to-day life more fun and fulfilling. It will help you to be more resilient, making you feel fresher at work for longer and improving your mood as you will have more skills to handle stress. You can’t avoid stress forever (sadly), but you can become better at handling it.

If you have any stress-busting tips, please let me know in the comments below.