Let’s talk about the structures and contributing factors for our productivity and success.
Here at Asian Efficiency, we consider productivity as the amount of time you spend pursuing your goals. And we consider achieving your goals a mark of success. So the more productive you’re able to live your life, the faster you will get to your goals… and the faster you get to success.
Supporting Structures are an important concept in our lives. Everything in your life has an effect on your productivity and success – whether you realize it or not.
There are 3 possibilities when it comes to any Supporting Structure in your life:
- It helps you.
- It hampers you.
- It’s neutral – which is actually very rare.
Because this is life we’re talking about, it would be impossible to cover everything – so let’s take a look at what we’ve identified as the most important Supporting Structures in your life.
In this guide, we will cover:
- Physical health and fitness.
- Belief systems and mindsets.
- Rituals and structural productivity.
- Routines for completing tasks.
- General outlook and happiness.
- Environmental stimulation.
- Mind share and attention share.
- Goals and outcomes.
- Emotional mastery.
- Skills and intelligence.
Physical Health and Fitness
We won’t got into this too much here as there has already been a lot said about the importance of exercise both here on this blog and well… pretty much everywhere.
One of the most important to reasons to workout is that doing so helps you perform better at work – it’s that simple. If you’re not exercising on a regular basis, you’re not being the best you that you can be.
There is a lot to say about nutrition. It’s probably the most hotly-debated topic out there. Should we eat paleo? Should we eat raw? Is meat good for us? Are grains good for us?
From (trying) to talk with others what I’ve personally come to realize is that everyone “generally agrees to respectfully disagree”. Even here at Asian Efficiency, everyone has a different leaning towards what they choose to eat and what they choose not to eat.
But there are some general principles that people universally agree on:
1. Know what you’re eating.
Knowing what specific foods you put in your body is important. Do certain foods make you sleepy? Do certain foods give you better workouts? Do certain foods simply accumulate as body fat for you?
2. Increase quality whenever you can.
Freshly-made food is obviously better than takeout which is obviously better than frozen meals.
The more you can increase the quality of your produce and ingredients, the better.
3. If you want to optimize, you must track and measure.
Hunger is an extremely poor and emotional measure of how much to eat. We all tend to under-eat or over-eat depending on what we’ve been doing recently. And if you don’t think that sugary foods mess with the chemicals in your brain and body – come to Bangkok sometime, and I’ll take you out for Shibuya Honey Toast.
However you choose to measure – by grams or by fistfuls – make sure you know what’s right for your goals and go with it.
4. Don’t snack.
Plain and simple.
Let’s move out of controversy and into something we can all agree upon.
Good habits help us, and bad habits don’t.
Habits are the way that we do things when we aren’t consciously thinking about them.
Good examples include:
- How we brush our teeth.
- What we do when we first sit down and start working for the day.
- The sequence we go through when we reach for our phone and unlock it – and what the first app we tap on is.
Habits are a combination of muscle memory and mental rewiring, which means that they can be formed and unformed with a bit of work and effort.
Obviously, we want to have as many habits as possible that help us rather than hurt us.
Here are some helpful habits we’ve covered before here on Asian Efficiency:
- Drinking water the first thing in the morning.
- Setting outcomes the night before (covered in the AE Primer).
- Coming back to review outcomes at every interval where we ask “what’s next?” (covered in OmniFocus Premium Posts).
- Logging all our random thoughts into OmniFocus or another inbox (covered in OmniFocus Premium Posts).
As a contrast, here are some extremely unhelpful habits that exist today:
- Unlocking our phones and going straight for Facebook/Instagram.
- Sitting down in front of the computer and going straight for email – this one comes out of fear.
- Sleeping in on weekends (covered in Better Sleep).
Belief Systems and Mindsets
Beliefs are the underlying structure of your mind. Their role is to convince you that the decisions you are making are the right ones – or wrong ones. They essentially “bias” you towards a certain point of view.
As with habits, there are helpful and unhelpful beliefs and mindsets.
The simplest non-woo-woo way to change beliefs is to simply write down the belief that you want to change, and then the one you want to change it into. And then look at the new belief every day – and let your brain go out and look for evidence to support the new belief.
An example of a useful belief to have is the growth mindset. This is where you believe that people are capable of learning new skills and ideas. It is the opposite from the common belief that if you aren’t born with a particular skill or didn’t learn it when you were young, you can’t learn it now.
Another useful belief is that success comes in the last 10%. If you’re tired for the day and you believe this, you will push an extra 10% – simply because you believe it. If you don’t then you simply won’t – and will never know what you’re missing out on.
Rituals and Structural Productivity
We also have covered morning rituals (gets you ready for work) and evening rituals (gets you ready for sleep) in the Asian Efficiency Primer.
How you decide to structure the time that you have helps shape your decisions, your actions, your motivation levels and more. Some people may dislike structure, but applied correctly it is a good thing that helps you focus, and gets you thinking about your goals and taking actions in the right direction.
Routines for Completing Tasks
Routines are what we do at a micro-level for handling things moment-to-moment. They are the “how to” of getting things done.
A combination of habits and learned routines are helpful in making us more productive here at Asian Efficiency, some include:
- Learning keyboard shortcuts.
- Gaining fluency with a particular app.
- Cultivating habits like Clear to Neutral or having all the information at-hand before you start working on a task.
- Reducing distractions through data isolation.
- Increasing the ability to handle procrastination effectively.
So how do we refine routines? By systemizing.
The next time you do a task, document it – write out step-by-step what you’ve done, play around with taking out unnecessary steps or streamlining existing ones until it’s fluid. Then add in things that will speed it up – like keyboard shortcuts or computer macros.
The more fluid you become at individual tasks, the more productive you will become overall.
General Outlook and Happiness
Our general outlook form a huge supporting pillar in our lives.
The question that needs to be asked here is:
Are you generally happy? Or not?
The systematic solution here is to find your sources of sadness or unhappiness – and remove them over time.
How radical you want to get with this (job, where you live, how you live) is entirely up to you. But continued unhappiness over time isn’t healthy, and will diminish your ability to be productive and succeed over time.
If we take a step outside of ourselves for a moment, we find that there are supporting structures in our environment as well.
At a micro-level, there is the place where you do productive work.
Do you enjoy sitting at your work desk/office every day? Is it pleasant – does it have the right temperature, things that make you comfortable, and is it ergonomic?
One of the reasons that I own 27″ screens is that it makes work infinitely more pleasant – and makes me look forward to actually sitting down and working every single day.
At one level out, think about the locations you frequent the most – your home, your office, your kitchen and so on.
Do the objects and layout of these environments have a positive or negative impact on your emotional state?
Some of your environmental elements you will be able to rearrange and control, and some you will not.
An a macro-level, think about where you live and do other things – the suburb, city, county or country that you live in.
What does walking around your city/neighborhood do to your mood and emotional state?
Is it like countryside Japan, where there’s a sense of economic stagnation and financial trouble?
Or is it like New York City, where people are hustling and bustling and en-route to doing fantastic things?
Everything in our environment either helps or hampers us – so we want to optimize whatever we can to help us.
Mind Share and Attention Share
What makes it into our mind and attention is important, because whatever makes it in consumes a large part of our unconscious processing power.
It’s important to ask what we’re letting in and to try to control that flow in as much as possible. Here’s an article on how to do that.
We want to let in the useful things, keep out the not-useful things, and to not let our minds fill up with junk – that results in becoming scatter-brained and getting overwhelmed with too much information.
Goals and Outcomes
Goals are one of the foundational parts of being productive. If productivity is the amount of time we spend pursuing our goals, then we must have goals in place first.
We’ve covered a lot of different aspects of goals at Asian Efficiency, which you can find collated here in the Goals category.
It’s important to have goals that are well-formed and well-defined, and to make sure that our goals motivate us and draw us in. Having poorly-formed goals simply leads to frustration and delayed progress.
Technology, when used properly, is an amazing tool. That’s why a large part of the Productivity Blueprint is dedicated towards showing you how to use technology properly and harnessing its ability to help you focus.
When we abuse technology however, it leads to procrastination, a loss of focus, and all sorts of neurological addictions.
If you have technology at your disposal (and most of us do), you want to find out which interactions help you, find out interactions don’t help you… and then to set up a structure so that you can be productive. This may mean not putting games on your smartphone, limiting access to your social networks, or only putting productive apps on your homescreen.
There’s a common saying that we are the average of the 5 people closest to us – and this is true.
The people around you will make or break your productivity faster than anything else. If you’re surrounded by people who are lazy, lethargic and apathetic… then you will quickly become like that. If you are surrounded by people who are actively developing their lives… then you will quickly become like that.
The takeaway here is to carefully choose the people with whom you spend your time – and if necessary, use the social tools available to you (boundaries, ejection, resolution etc) to limit your time around people who hamper more than help you.
Skills and Intelligence
Our skills and intelligence are important parts of the Supporting Structures equation but, surprisingly, they are not as important as other things like environment.
Skills are ability to do stuff and give us the ability to do things productively.
But having or not having a particular technical skill won’t necessarily make us productive or unproductive. It is the application of that skill that determines that.
Skills can be useful – but only skills that will actually be used in the pursuit of our chosen goals are important.
We’ve covered a lot of different areas in this guide.
The best way to implement what you’ve learned is to piecemeal it, applying a bit at a time. This is done by finding the immediate gaps in your supporting structures and filling those first.
You can take the first step today by looking over the various areas outlined above, then decide which area of your life needs the most attention. Once you’ve made that decision, focus all of your energy on that area.
Resist the urge to dabble with multiple supporting life structures at once.
Most people have no idea of the tremendous power they can command when they choose to focus all of their resources on mastering a single area of life.
Like using a magnifying glass, by focusing in on a specific area for improvement, you will force massive growth on whichever area you choose.
Over time, work through the rest of the areas systematically, with a bit of patience and persistence.
That is how we go from talking productivity, to living productivity.
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