Rambles | Productivity

By Steve Faulkner - Wednesday, December 30, 2020


So it's been a while since my last post, which is quite handy because the reason that I've finally got myself together to write this is that I've taken myself through the process I'm just about to share with you. An all too uncommon example of practising what I preach, as this is something I've helped hundreds of people with over the years.

Don't worry, this is not a corporate box-ticker but a simple way of starting to overcome the barriers to our productivity, a big part of which is purposeful practice, reading, and general development (magic and personal). Finding the time and motivation to learn and improve can be a struggle for so many of us, and much of the time, we try to think our way to a better, more effective approach. The problem with this is that we often don't go deep enough. We think of the obvious reasons, which usually just end up being someone along the lines of 'I don't have the time' of my usual 'I have the kids too much'. Though these statements are often accurate, the mistake we make is to believe them to be a result of circumstance, and therefore unchangeable. This is rarely true. The key is to get a more accurate idea of how we are using our time and energy, which isn't always obvious. This is because a considerable amount of our energy is usually spent not only on what we are doing, but what we are thinking.

So let's go back to the example of my recent dearth of productivity. Because of live gigs and training being currently non-existent, my work time is usually spent filming, editing and sharing video content for cardmagiccourse.com and the Real Magic Review Channel. On top of this, there's the usual admin and childcare, currently, a significant percentage of my time. OK, when they're at school, a productivity nightmare when they are not.

At the start of lockdown, I made a wildly inaccurate prediction of how much content I could create, which in turn resulted in a big old bottleneck of products to review. Thinking about this, and various other personal issues started to keep me up at night. The more I thought about it, the harder it became to actually do anything to elevate the pressure. It seemed so simple: I just had to read, learn magic tricks, watch downloads and make videos - kind of what I want to be doing anyway.

The truth of the matter was that, as is always the case when we lose motivation, there was a lot more going on. I was expending vast amounts of energy worrying and thinking about things, mostly not magic related, that I couldn't or wouldn't do anything about. Like all of us, my energy is (increasingly) finite, and any that I waste leaves less fuel for the good stuff. This is all hindsight, as all of this was bubbling away beneath conscious thought, causing me to become stressed, unproductive and unhappy without really knowing why. With this exercise, we start to get into the work of Why. Only when we truly understand what's going on, with clarity, can we begin to make changes.

Here's another way of looking at it: When I got my first iPhone, I remember getting really frustrated that it kept slowing down. I then realised that you could actually close apps down and delete 'recently deleted' videos and photos. After closing down every app on my phone, and permanently clearing every video or picture I had ever taken, sent or been sent, things worked again. The software started running smoothly again.

See these next few exercises as going into your brain and deleting and closing down all the unwanted stuff, clearing the way for productivity (not business) but more importantly, relieving stress and allowing us to become connected to the things we love to do.

The Model

Some rules:

  • You need to write stuff down. None of this works if you try to do it in your head. That just opens up more apps. The act of getting this onto paper is most of the work. It elevates the pressure and can be incredibly therapeutic, even life-changing. I've done this hundreds of times, and it's still incredibly useful.

  • It is to be adapted. Meaning that the only thing that matters is that it works for you. Use different titles, stages and formats. My advice is to map out the model as taught here and let yourself adapt over time if certain things aren't working for you.

  • Don't censor yourself. Nobody will ever see your work, so be brutally honest. This isn't about what you should be doing, but what you are currently doing.

  • Be messy. The following illustration is formatted for easy reading. The original actually looks like this:

Madness

Clearly madness, but it works for me, and that's what's important.

The Work

less mad

  • First, you're going just get everything out of your head and onto the paper. So start down the centre of the page and write everything that's currently concerning you or that you worry about regularly. Importantly, don't put them in any order. This is pure brainstorming. It could be a squeaky door that needs fixing, a dying plant that needs watering, the state of the environment, the current political climate. No matter how large or small, all of these things will add up to weight you down. It's the opposite of marginal gains. I will often not use a list at all, but just write them randomly all over the page and then put them into a list. Post-it notes on a wall also work well. Remember that you can always add to this later as more things come to mind.

  • It's time to make some choices. Is there anything you can actually do about the problem? Much of the time we worry so much about things we can't change. So making an active decision to not spend energy worrying about these things can be a powerful first step. This is not to be confused with not caring. You can care deeply about something without it affecting your day in a significant way. Similarly, there may be something you can do about it, but you choose not to. Or you may already be doing enough. This is where you must not judge yourself. There are a lot of issues I care about that I could spend time on, but as a good friend once told me, you can do anything you like in this life, but you can't do everything. Remember, nobody sees this but you. Use arrows from your middle column, and then rewrite these in the top left box and cross them out on your original list.

  • There may be some things that you can and will do something about, but it can wait. This is sometimes a huge relief. We will often see all of our tasks and issues without any time linked to them, just visualising an increasing mountain of intimidating 'jobs' that need doing. To make the conscious decision to postpone can clear more space, and because you have it on paper, you don't have to carry that weight. Stick this stuff into the bottom left, and leave some space.

  • All that's left has its own box on the right. In reality, this could go onto another page. Don't worry about it being super neat. The important thing is that you have a new list of things, as headings, that you have decided are worthy of your time and energy. Importantly, you haven't yet decided what you are going to do, just that you are going to do something. Leave a good chunk of space beneath each heading.

  • Under each heading, write a list of options but again DON'T CENSOR! This can be as realistic or as ridiculous as you like. Try to find at least 10 things you could do to approach each issue. The illustration has less for neatness. Even initially, stupid sounding solutions can promote thinking that can lead to more realistic approaches.

  • Reduce if needed. You'll notice that some of the items on the right side will take more time than others. Maintaining a healthy diet isn't that time consuming, but it does take an active decision and energy. Whilst the Card Course Videos will take a lot more time and effort. As will the SEO course. If you have too many of these big projects in the right-hand list, you may need to prioritise and postpone, as I have with the SEO course, the Zoom show and my Online Leadership Programme.

  • Choose your options. This may take some experimenting and trial and error. Be an explorer and play! If nothing jumps out (it often will), try one approach and if it doesn't work, try another one. We'll do more on this later, but make sure you put things in a diary. It'll help you stay accountable and remind you to take it seriously. For example, if it's important to you to practice a specific coin vanish, plan to do a little every day. Make it a thing.

  • First, you're going just get everything out of your head and onto the paper. So start down the centre of the page and write everything that's currently concerning you or that you worry about regularly. Importantly, don't put them in any order. This is pure brainstorming. It could be a squeaky door that needs fixing, a dying plant that needs watering, the state of the environment, the current political climate. No matter how large or small, all of these things will add up to weight you down. It's the opposite of marginal gains. I will often not use a list at all, but just write them randomly all over the page and then put them into a list. Post-it notes on a wall also work well. Remember that you can always add to this later as more things come to mind.

  • It's time to make some choices. Is there anything you can actually do about the problem? Much of the time we worry so much about things we can't change. So making an active decision to not spend energy worrying about these things can be a powerful first step. This is not to be confused with not caring. You can care deeply about something without it affecting your day in a significant way. Similarly, there may be something you can do about it, but you choose not to. Or you may already be doing enough. This is where you must not judge yourself. There are a lot of issues I care about that I could spend time on, but as a good friend once told me, you can do anything you like in this life, but you can't do everything. Remember, nobody sees this but you. Use arrows from your middle column, and then rewrite these in the top left box and cross them out on your original list.

  • There may be some things that you can and will do something about, but it can wait. This is sometimes a huge relief. We will often see all of our tasks and issues without any time linked to them, just visualising an increasing mountain of intimidating 'jobs' that need doing. To make the conscious decision to postpone can clear more space, and because you have it on paper, you don't have to carry that weight. Stick this stuff into the bottom left, and leave some space.

  • All that's left has its own box on the right. In reality, this could go onto another page. Don't worry about it being super neat. The important thing is that you have a new list of things, as headings, that you have decided are worthy of your time and energy. Importantly, you haven't yet decided what you are going to do, just that you are going to do something. Leave a good chunk of space beneath each heading.

  • Under each heading, write a list of options but again DON'T CENSOR! This can be as realistic or as ridiculous as you like. Try to find at least 10 things you could do to approach each issue. The illustration has less for neatness. Even initially, stupid sounding solutions can promote thinking that can lead to more realistic approaches.

  • Reduce if needed. You'll notice that some of the items on the right side will take more time than others. Maintaining a healthy diet isn't that time consuming, but it does take an active decision and energy. Whilst the Card Course Videos will take a lot more time and effort. As will the SEO course. If you have too many of these big projects in the right-hand list, you may need to prioritise and postpone, as I have with the SEO course, the Zoom show and my Online Leadership Programme.

  • Choose your options. This may take some experimenting and trial and error. Be an explorer and play! If nothing jumps out (it often will), try one approach and if it doesn't work, try another one. We'll do more on this later, but make sure you put things in a diary. It'll help you stay accountable and remind you to take it seriously. For example, if it's important to you to practice a specific coin vanish, plan to do a little every day. Make it a thing.

Don't worry about getting the exercise 'right'. Just doing it will be a big step in making sure you're doing the things you want to do. Also, don't let the simplicity of this process make you underestimate its power. I have witnessed huge changes in people when they spend time on these exercises. Every time I do this, something shifts. For example, I am now in my first week of a new diet regime for my IBS that has made an enormous difference. It's a massive hassle, and I've been avoiding it for a long time. Doing this exercise has highlighted the change that was needed. Incidentally, it's also why you are reading this blog.

This may not seem directly related to magic, but how our life works will influence everything. If you are anything like me, your magic practice is hugely important to you and a big part of what makes you happy, and there really isn't anything in life more important than that. Invest the time now, and you'll be amazed at the difference it can make.


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